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The Importance of Safety Helmets In Preventing Traumatic Brain Injury

According to Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were 235,461 traffic incidents relating to an automobile accident, motorcycle accident or bicycle accident in Florida during the 2010 calendar year. 7,484 involved motorcyclists and 4,676 involved bicyclists. 350 motorcyclists tragically lost their lives and 6,686 were injured. [1] 4,600 bicyclists were injured and 76 died as a result of accidents involving bicycles. [2] As a Clearwater personal injury attorney, a substantial portion of our practice is comprised of traumatic brain injury claims stemming from either an automobile accident or motorcycle accident.

In Florida, you are presently required to wear a helmet while operating a bicycle if you are under the age of sixteen and under the age of twenty-one when operating a motorcycle. You are not required to wear a safety helmet while on a motorcycle if you are at least twenty-one years old and have medical insurance in the amount of at least $10,000.00.

Approximately two million head injuries of all types occur each year in the United States. 1.7 million individuals sustain a traumatic brain injury annually (TBI). [3] An estimated 28% of traumatic brain injuries were the result of an automobile accident.

How Traumatic Brain Injuries Are Caused

A traumatic brain injury is often caused by a blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain. Significant acceleration or deceleration (whiplash mechanism) of the head that often occurs in a rear end automobile accident may also result in a traumatic brain injury. [4] The severity of a traumatic brain injury may range from mild to severe. The majority of closed head injuries that occur each year are concussions or other forms of mild traumatic brain injury. Symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury may include headache, vomiting, nausea, lack of motor coordination, dizziness, difficulty balancing [5], lightheadedness, blurred vision, tired eyes, tinnitus, fatigue, lethargy and changes in sleep patterns. [6] Cognitive and emotional symptoms include behavioral and mood changes, confusion, and trouble with memory, concentration, attention, or thinking. [7]

When a traumatic brain injury is suspected, CT scans or MRIs may be used to confirm the diagnosis. Angiography may be used when the head trauma is of a penetrating nature. Electroencephalography and transcranial doppler may also be used. A neuropsychological evaluation may be performed to determine long-term cognitive issues and to aid in planning the rehabilitation process. The majority of my clients whom have sustained a closed head injury will benefit from a neuropsychological evaluation and work up to correlate and clinical and diagnostic findings.

Most closed head injuries are mild and do not cause permanent or long term disability. Most mild traumatic brain injuries are completely resolved within three weeks, although there may be some mild cognitive and social impairment. [8] Prognosis differs depending on the severity and location of the lesion.

Cognitive deficits that can follow a traumatic brain injury include impaired attention; disrupted insight, judgment, and thought; reduced thought processing speed; distractibility; and deficits in reasoning, planning, problem solving and multitasking. [9] Memory loss is the most common cognitive impairment and occurs in large percentage of individuals with closed head trauma. [10]

Long-term physical and psychological care is often required. Diagnosis and treatment can be expensive. Family members of a traumatic brain injury victim often have both financial and emotional hardship as a result of there loved one’s injuries. As a Clearwater personal injury attorney, I often spend as much time counseling and consoling the families of the victim, as the victim himself/herself.

All motorcyclists may not be required to wear a safety helmet. However, a study performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study examining the relationship between motorcycle helmet use and motorcycle crash outcomes showed that helmeted motorcyclists were far less likely to experience facial and head injuries compared to un-helmeted motorcyclists and were significantly less likely to experience a serious closed head injury. Motorcyclists who suffered a traumatic brain injury, were much less likely to be discharged home from the hospital and more likely to require rehabilitation and be discharged to a long-term care facility. [11]

While, it is not this writer’s place to say whether or not stricter helmet laws should be enacted, it is my opinion that each motorcyclist should be properly educated about the benefits of helmet use and the risks and consequences of riding a motorcycle without a helmet.

Matthew A. Dolman is a Clearwater personal injury attorney who limits his practice to first and third party insurance claims stemming from an automobile accident, motorcycle accident, traumatic brain injury, catastrophic injury, spine injury and wrongful death. Dolman Law Group is a Clearwater based personal injury law firm with satellite offices in Bradenton and Melbourne. The attorneys at Dolman Law Group represent plaintiffs only and will not ever represent an insurance carrier. For more information on Dolman Law Group, safety helmets, motorcycle accident law, automobile accident law or traumatic brain injury, please email matt@dolmanlaw.com

[1] Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Traffic Crash Statistics Report 2010 10-11 and 39-40
[2] Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Traffic Crash Statistics Report 2010 41-42
[3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Traumatic Brain Injury October 6, 2011
[4] Hardman, JM, Manoukian A (2002) “Pathology of head trauma”
[5] Kushner D. (1998). “Mild traumatic brain injury: Toward understanding manifestations and treatment”
[6] National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke “Traumatic Brain Injury Information”
[7] Kushner D. (1998). “Mild traumatic brain injury: Toward understanding manifestations and treatment”
[8] Crooks CY, Zumsteg JM, Bell KR (November 2007) “Traumatic brain injury: A review of practice management and recent advances”
[9] Arlinghous KA, Shoaib AM, Price TRP (2005). “Neuropsychiatric assessment.”
[10] Hall RC, Chapman MJ (2005) “Definition, diagnosis, and forensic implications of postconcussional syndrome”
[11] National Highway Traffic Safety Administration DOT HS 811 208 “Motorcycle Helmet Use and Head and Facial Injures (2009)