Facial Injury During Motorcycle Accidents
Motorcycle accidents can result in horrific facial injuries that can be life-threatening, result in lasting damage and scarring, and require extensive and painful treatments.
Although DOT-approved helmets have been shown to reduce the risk of facial injuries among riders and passengers (and they are required under Massachusetts law), the failure to wear one won’t necessarily exempt you from collecting compensation for these injuries from negligent motorists or third parties.
At The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman, our Boston motorcycle injury attorneys have a thorough understanding of state statute and common law precedent when it comes to recovery of damages for facial injuries following a collision. We recognize that while life may never again be quite the same, you deserve the opportunity to have the best chance of healing and putting such injuries behind you.Facial Injuries Associated with Motorcycle Accidents
Motorcyclists in general are more prone to suffering facial injuries than passenger vehicle occupants or truck drivers simply because they have limited protection between themselves and pavement, vehicles and debris. Even a helmet won’t shield a motorcyclist from possible facial lacerations or broken bones.
Among the more common types of craniofacial injuries suffered by motorcycle operators and passengers:
- Broken jaw. A broken or dislocated jaw is not only incredibly painful, it can make eating or even breathing difficult. Such injuries are often considered incredibly serious and requires immediate treatment – including surgery.
- Facial fractures. Your face contains numerous small, delicate bones. These include your cheekbones and nose. Fractures to these sites can result not only in acute and chronic pain, but also disfigurement that can directly impact your quality of life.
- Eye injuries. This can involve injury to the orbital bones (the bones surrounding your eyes) or your eyes themselves. Injuries that lead to blindness or even partial blindness can be devastating and life-altering.
- Dental injuries. It’s not uncommon for riders to suffer from chipped teeth or the loss of several teeth. Dental treatments and repairs are often costly (usually not covered by health insurance) and painful.
- Fractured skull. Skull fractures can result in disfigurement, but also traumatic brain injury if fragments of the bone travel into the brain tissue or brain bruising occurs. This can result in serious, lifelong and even fatal injuries.
Even when these injuries aren’t fatal, they can cost a motorcyclist dearly – in medical expenses, lost wages from time off work (or inability to return to work) and the loss of life enjoyment due to pain and disfigurement.
One recent study of craniofacial injury from motorcycle accidents concluded that esthetic deformities and functional changes in the face were relatively common and, when they didn’t result in death, caused changes in mandibular (jaw) movements, pain, muscle disorders from fractures, and scarring. Some patients had to undergo extensive speech therapy to address some of these complications.
Our dedicated team of motorcycle injury attorneys in Massachusetts are committed to helping crash victims obtain just compensation from negligent parties.Motorcycle Helmets and Facial Injuries
Motorcycle helmets are required for riders and passengers (except in very limited circumstances) by MGL ch. 90 section 7, which states in part, “Every person operating a motorcycle or passenger on a motorcycle… shall wear protective head gear (that conforms) with the minimum standards…” Motorcyclists are further forbidden to allow passengers to ride on their motorcycles if they aren’t wearing an approved helmet. The “approved standard” is set forth in the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 218. (Novelty helmets might look cool, but they won’t pass legal muster or offer adequate protection in the event of a crash.)
Still, of the dozens of motorcyclists killed in Massachusetts annually, more than 80 percent are wearing helmets. The good news about that is we have less than the average number of deaths and injuries compared to many other states. However, these figures also tell us that motorcycle helmets do not make us invincible.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ( NHTSA ) looked at motorcycle helmet use and facial injuries and discovered that while helmets did reduce the risk of injuries to the head and face, the danger wasn’t entirely eliminated – particularly when high speed or alcohol impairment were factors. Where 22.3 percent of un-helmeted riders suffered facial injuries, so too did 13.1 percent of helmeted riders.
As is relevant for our motorcycle accident attorneys in Massachusetts, failure to wear a helmet is not going to prevent you from prevailing in a personal injury lawsuit against the negligent motorist or others who may be responsible for the crash.
However, the defense may use it to argue comparative fault, per MGL ch. 231 section 85. Massachusetts adheres to a model of modified comparative fault with a 51 percent bar, meaning so long as you are not more responsible than the defendant for your injuries, you can still obtain damages from that defendant. In a civil injury case, however, the conduct of the motorcyclist and/ or a passenger will be weighed compared to what the judge or jury feels would have been the course of action for a reasonably prudent person in the same or similar circumstances.
A violation of Massachusetts’ motorcycle helmet law may not have caused the crash, but it may have contributed to the extent of injuries (or so the defense will argue to reduce your damage award). Monetary damage awards will be proportionately reduced when there is a finding of comparative fault for causing an accident or exacerbating injuries. So if you win $120,000 but the jury finds you bear 20 percent fault, you will only receive $96,000 (your total damages minus 20 percent).
As researchers have noted, however, motorcycle helmets don’t prevent every facial injury. It would take extensive expert witness testimony and analysis by the defense to posit your injuries would have been significantly less severe had you worn a helmet. You will need a legal team prepared to effectively counter such defenses.
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