Road rash is the informal term used to describe an abrasion(s) on a person’s body after they come in contact with a road. Motorcyclists and bicyclists face the most risk of suffering road rash injuries when they are in an accident, and get thrown from their bikes; however, those who get ejected from their motor vehicle in a severe traffic accident or pedestrians who are thrown when struck by a motor vehicle might also suffer road rash injuries.
The aftermath of road rash can permanently alter a person’s life, depending on the severity. This guide provides a broad overview about the types of road rash, their associated symptoms, and common treatment options. We also cover parties who might be responsible for road rash injuries and under what circumstances you might be able to seek compensation when you or a loved one has sustained road rash injuries.
Types of Road Rash
Road rash covers a broad range of injuries which might occur when a person’s body comes in contact with a road surface such as asphalt or gravel. As you dig deeper into your understanding of the injury, you will find two different types of road rash:
- Avulsion injury. The most common type of road rash occurs when layers of skin peel away from the body as it slides across the road surface. Avulsion-type road rash might result in exposed fat and muscle. In the most severe cases, an avulsion injury might leave bone exposed. Surface abrasions, sometimes called strawberries or raspberries, often heal on their own within a few weeks. In severe cases, it’s not uncommon for victims to undergo one or more corrective surgeries which involve skin grafting.
- Compression injury. A compression injury occurs when the body, arms, or legs gets crushed or “compressed” between two objects. Among accidents which result in road rash injuries, a compression injury is most likely to occur in a motorcycle accident. The biker gets crushed between the road and the bike, causing bruises, muscle damage, and multiple fractures. Compression injuries are often serious and need immediate, and perhaps continued medical treatment.
Degrees of Road Rash
Much like burns, medical professionals evaluate the severity of road rash injuries and categorize them by degree. The degrees of injury from the least severe to most severe are:
First-Degree Road Rash.
A first-degree road rash injury is superficial, only scraping the top layer of skin. It’s similar to what happens when a child falls and skins a knee. Those who suffer first-degree road rash injury have a good chance their injury will heal completely within a few weeks and not leave a permanent scar. While it’s always in your best interest to get checked out by a medical professional, especially after another party causes an accident, those who suffer first-degree road rash typically do not need medical treatment.
Second-Degree Road Rash
The next degree of road rash injury differs from first-degree road rash because it breaks the epidermis, the top layer of skin. These wounds also typically heal on their own, and permanent scars are unlikely. Yet, when the skin is open it’s common for pieces of dirt, sand, gravel, and/or asphalt to plant themselves in the wound when the skin slides along a dirty road. When not properly cleaned, second-degree road rash can lead to severe, even deadly infections. Those who suffer second-degree road rash must remove, or better yet, have a medical professional remove visible pieces of stones and gravel, followed by a thorough cleaning of the wounded area with iodine, betadine, or saline to disinfect the area so it heals well.
Third-Degree Road Rash
The most severe road rash, third-degree road rash, often leaves scarring and permanent damage to victims. When the skin scrapes across the road, both the epidermis, and the dermis, which is the second layer of skin, peel away from the body. This leaves fat and muscle tissue exposed, and sometimes bone. Third-degree road rash requires immediate medical treatment, and will often include one or more skin grafts or reconstructive surgeries. It’s highly likely third-degree road rash will leave permanent damage and/or scarring.
If you choose not to seek immediate medical treatment after a first- or second-degree road rash injury, you need to watch for specific signs and symptoms of infection. If any of them occur, you must head to the doctor as soon as possible:
- Increased swelling or redness around the wound(s)
- Increased feeling of warmth or heat surrounding the wound(s)
- Increasing pain
- Pus which is draining from the wound (s)
- Red streaks around the wounds(s)
How to Avoid Road Rash
Even when motorcyclists, cyclists, and others at risk for a road rash injury, follow the rules of the road, they might be involved in a traffic collision because of another party’s negligence. Some things can help prevent road rash, or at least mitigate its damage, so the injuries might not cause permanent damage. They include:
- Wearing a helmet. All bicycle riders across the Greater Seattle area must wear helmets and motorcyclists must comply with the mandatory state-wide helmet law. Yet, some choose to tempt fate and avoid using a helmet. Those involved in traffic collisions without a helmet risk road rash on their heads, in addition to the impact and trauma of impact which might result in a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). Bikers should also invest in a full-face helmet. Open helmets protect the skull, but not the face.
- Leatherwear. Especially relevant for those on motorcycles, leather jackets and pants will absorb some or most of the sliding action across a road surface which might occur in a motorcycle accident. In severe accidents, occurring at high speeds, the road might wear through the leather, but it’s highly unlikely a biker will suffer third-degree road rash when they are wearing leather.
- Gloves. Invest in a good pair of riding gloves with palm sliders. When humans fall they naturally try to break their fall with their hands. In a motorcycle accident, a biker might try to brace himself and suffer a painful road rash injury if they aren’t wearing the right gear on their hands. Good gloves can also prevent fracture and help protect wrists from fractures.
- Proper clothing. While motorcyclists wear leather for protection, those on bicycles also need to make sure they wear the proper clothing and footwear. If nothing else, a good pair of pants and close-toed shoes will help prevent road rash injuries which might occur on a bicycle. Consult with your favorite cycling gear shop to find out the best protective clothing for riding.
Liability in Washington Road Rash Injuries
Many different scenarios might cause an accident which leads to road rash injuries. Some examples of parties a Washington court might find liable for road rash injuries include:
- Motor vehicle drivers. When drivers on the road make poor choices or don’t follow traffic regulations, they risk causing a motorcycle, bicycle, or pedestrian accident. Drunk or drugged driving, distracted driving, speeding, and tailgating might all lead to accidents which result in a severe road rash injury. Drivers must also be aware of their blind spots and make sure to check them before turning or switching lanes to avoid hitting bikes which are sometimes difficult to see. When driver negligence results in an accident, the court can find they are liable for damages related to road rash injuries.
- Motorcycle and bicycle manufacturers. Companies who sell defective motorcycles, bicycles, helmets, or defective parts can be held liable for damages in a personal injury lawsuit when a defect causes an accident resulting in a severe injury, such as road rash. In fact, any party involved in the chain of distribution for a bike, helmet, or bike part might be partially or fully liable for damages. This includes manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, and retailers.
- City of Seattle, State of Washington, or other government entity. When a poorly maintained road leads to an accident and injury, the government entity responsible for road maintenance might be liable for damages in a Washington court. The notion of a poorly maintained road includes a variety of things such as uncleared debris, potholes, sinkholes, missing traffic signs, poor road design, and malfunctioning travel signals.
Recovering Damages After a Road Rash Injury
Under Washington law, those who suffer a road rash injury in a traffic accident can seek compensation for damages from liable parties in civil court. Washington courts award punitive and compensatory damages. Punitive damages are rare and reserved for cases of willful harm or extreme negligence.
The vast majority of accident victims who receive compensation for their injuries, collect compensatory damages, which are meant to offset the financial and emotional costs of a severe accident and accompanying injuries. Compensatory damages you might receive in a settlement, or as a result of a verdict in your favor, include:
- Medical expenses including ambulance service, emergency room visits, hospitalization, surgery, diagnostic scans, and prescription medications for pain management and infection
- Future medical expenses, which are especially common in severe cases of road rash because victims often need one or more skin grafts or reconstructive surgeries
- Rehabilitation costs including visits to physical therapists and other specialists, as well as assistive devices such as crutches, canes, and wheelchairs
- Lost wages for time missed from work due to road rash injury, hospitalization, and recovery
- Lost earning capacity for a road rash injury which results in severe and permanent damage, which prevents a victim from returning to their job
- Compensation for the physical pain and suffering of a road rash injury, which is excruciating for many victims
- Compensation for the mental anguish which accompanies a severe injury and recovery
- Compensation for scarring and disfigurement—even with multiple skins grafts or reconstructive surgeries, many victims will suffer permanent scars they will have for the rest of their lives
- Other non-economic damages which might apply to a particular case such as loss of consortium with a spouse or loss of quality of life
If you lost a loved one as a result of a road rash injury, you might be eligible to recover damages in a wrongful death lawsuit depending on your relationship with the deceased. In addition to some of those mentioned above, you might also recover funeral expenses and burial costs. Your attorney will advise you on the best course of action for you and your family.
Get the Legal Help You Need After Suffering Road Rash Injuries
When a motorcyclist suffers road rash injuries, it can devastate injured victims and their families. The emotional stress and financial challenges which accompany a severe injury can dwarf the physical pain and discomfort associated with road rash injuries. An empathetic legal team will understand the difficulties you might experience in the aftermath of a road rash injury. It can investigate your accident, handle communications and negotiations with the insurance company, and litigate your case when settlement isn’t an option.
If you or a loved one has suffered road rash in a motorcycle accident, bicycle accident, or other type of traffic accident, you deserve compensation when another party’s negligence caused you harm. Washington law entitles you to seek damages from the at-fault party, as long as you do so within the statute of limitations period which applies to your case. In most cases, you will have three years from the date of injury, but you need to consult with your attorney to be certain of which time limit applies to your case.