Road rash: even the name sounds painful. Many people think of road rash as a fairly minor injury: scraping off a few layers of skin in a bicycle accident or by falling while running, for example. In more serious cases, like car accidents, however, road rash can cause long-term pain and scarring, ultimately impacting every area of the victim’s life.
What Is Road Rash?
Road rash occurs when a harsh material, usually the road, rubs against the skin and removes several layers of skin along the way. Generally, road rash occurs during a fall or when an individual is dragged across the pavement or another rough or tarred surface. In a car accident, for example, a victim thrown from the car might scrape skin along the pavement, resulting in road rash. Cyclists and biker accidents may have a higher likelihood of experiencing road rash in an accident, since bicycles and motorcycles offer little protection from the road during an accident.
In minor cases, road rash removes only the top few layers of skin, leaving behind reddened skin that may bleed a little. In more serious cases, however, road rash can cause much more serious symptoms, such as:
- Nerve damage. Sometimes, road rash goes so deep that it causes nerve damage in the affected area. Nerve damage can lead to a lack of sensation in the impacted area. In other cases, nerve damage may cause pain or increased sensitivity in the injured area.
- Damage to muscles and tendons. Sometimes, road rash goes deep enough to expose muscles and tendons. These injuries may cause severe pain and swelling as well as an increased risk of infection.
- Scarring. Even minor road rash can result in significant scarring: raised, bumpy skin that does not look or feel like your skin did before the accident.
- Permanent deformity. In some cases, road rash goes all the way to the bone. In this case, even with immediate medical attention, you may suffer permanent deformity to the affected area.
Treating Road Rash
Many people, especially experienced cyclists or runners who have suffered road rash in the past, may choose to treat minor road rash themselves: cleaning the wound, keeping it dry, and waiting for it to heal, which typically occurs within a couple of weeks. In the case of more severe road rash, however, victims may need an expensive emergency room visit and follow-up care to help treat road rash.
In the Emergency Room
In the emergency room, the staff will clean the wound and remove any foreign matter. Often, they accomplish foreign matter removal by irrigating the wound and washing it with a sterile solution that helps remove dirt, grit, and rocks that ended up in the wound from the road during the accident. Doctors will then evaluate the wound to determine its severity. In some cases, they can bandage the wound and wait for it to heal.
You may also, at your doctor’s instructions, want to apply antibiotic ointment to the wound to help decrease the risk of infection. In some cases, especially if you have road rash over a large percentage of your body or show early signs of infection, doctors may use antibiotics to help decrease infection risk.
Severe road rash may require significant surgical intervention for the victim to make a full recovery. During the surgery, doctors may work to repair tendons, ligaments, and muscles abraded during the accident. They may need to drain any infection that began as a result of foreign matter not removed from the wound. Doctors may also choose to perform a skin graft, removing skin from another part of the body to repair some of the skin in the impacted area. Skin grafts become more important when the road rash impacts a particularly large area of the body.
During the patient’s recovery, doctors may need to view the wound regularly to see how the healing is progressing. Some victims of road rash may require physical therapy to learn how to cope with limitations caused by tightened skin and scarring. In some cases, road rash may impact mobility around joints. The patient may need to work hard to restore as much mobility as possible and learn to live within any limitations posed by that scarring.
Some people struggle to live with the scarring that results from road rash, especially if that scarring occurs on the face or areas of the body routinely visible when clothed. In this case, doctors may recommend plastic surgery to help restore the victim’s appearance as much as possible, allowing the victim to more fully resume the activities of daily life.
Complications From Road Rash
Often, minor road rash heals with few complications. More serious road rash, on the other hand, may lead to substantial complications, including:
- Infection. When foreign matter remains in the wound or foreign matter makes its way into the wound after the initial bandaging and washing, the wound may become infected. Infection can complicate healing, lead to increased pain and suffering, and ultimately cause permanent scarring. Having the wound cleaned in the emergency room, and keeping it clean and dry, can substantially decrease the risk of infection and lead to better healing over time.
- Scarring. In some cases, road rash creates more severe scars than originally anticipated. Exposure to UV radiation, including sunlight, can increase scarring. In some cases, scars may decrease mobility in impacted limbs by causing tension in the skin. Scarring reduces the skin’s natural elasticity, which can make it harder to move freely following a road rash injury.
Preventing Road Rash
In a car accident, you often have little time to react and no time to prevent road rash. If you ride a motorcycle or bicycle, especially if you ride on busy streets, you can take several steps to decrease your odds of road rash if you do suffer injuries in an accident.
- Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs. Flesh exposed to the road has a higher likelihood of suffering road rash in an accident. When you go out to bike, even in warmer temperatures, consider wearing long sleeves and pants to provide protection.
- Consider investing in protective gear. Wearing regular athletic pants or clothing can help decrease the odds of road rash in some cases. Protective gear, on the other hand, usually offers a thicker outer layer that helps prevent ripping and tearing. While regular athletic clothing may tear on contact, protective gear often offers extra protection to your skin.
- If you ride a motorcycle, wear a full-face helmet. While bike riders may prefer not to use a full-face helmet, which can be heavy and hot, motorcycle riders may find that a full-face helmet offers more protection in an accident, including decreasing the risk of suffering road rash on your face.
- Avoid riding on slick surfaces or in bad weather. In bad weather, accident risk increases. Slick pavement can raise the odds that your tires will slide out from under you, causing you to lay over a motorcycle or bicycle and ultimately leading to road rash.
Seeking Compensation for a Road Rash Injury
Many victims of accidents wonder, “Do I deserve legal compensation for a road rash injury?” In some cases—a bump from a vehicle that sends you flying off of your bicycle to scrape flesh on the road, for example—you may feel that you got off fairly lightly. Treating road rash seems much easier than dealing with broken bones or traumatic brain injury. If you suffered road rash in an accident, however, you do deserve compensation for your injuries and should seek it as soon as possible.
- Road rash causes significant pain and suffering. Immediately after the accident, you may have extreme pain when touching the area around the injury. In some cases, you may not experience pain at the deepest part of the injury until healing begins to progress. In other cases, you may have immediate severe pain around the site of the injury. If you suffer nerve damage, you may have ongoing pain at the site of the injury for quite some time after the initial injury heals.
- Road rash, especially severe road rash, should receive medical care. While advice abounds on how to treat road rash at home, if you sustain road rash in an accident due to the negligence of another party, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Not only will emergency room staff take better precautions to ensure that the wound gets cleaned out and you decrease the risk of infection, the emergency room visit will provide documentation of your injuries and their cause. You may also want to take photos of the injuries both at the scene of the accident and at the emergency room.
Seeking medical treatment for road rash, unfortunately, often grows costly. Not only will you need to pay the cost of an emergency room bill, including, in some cases, ambulance transport to the hospital, but you may also face ongoing medical charges as you return to your doctor for future looks at the injury.
- You may need more medical care for your road rash than you initially think. If road rash results in infection, for example, you may need to pay a visit to your doctor for treatment, even if you initially chose not to seek medical care. If you need ongoing medical care for your injuries, you may start to rack up medical bills in a hurry. Not only that, if road rash goes deeper than initially thought, you may need surgical care or even skin grafts to make a full recovery.
- You cannot always predict what scarring will look like as healing progresses. Severe road rash can cause substantial scarring and disfigurement. Many victims choose to wait and see how scarring heals over time; however, often, victims opt for plastic surgery to help restore mobility and appearance following severe road rash, especially on the face or other highly visible areas of the skin. In some cases, you might assume that road rash will heal cleanly, then discover further into your recovery that it left severe scars behind that need surgical intervention to repair. Since you did not cause your accident, you should not bear the brunt of that expense!
What Compensation Can You Claim?
If you experience road rash in an accident, your compensation will depend on the severity of your injuries and the extent of your medical expenses, as well as the insurance policy that covers the responsible party. As with any other victim of a serious accident, however, you have the right to claim compensation for the following:
- Medical expenses. From the initial emergency room visit to your consultations with a plastic surgeon and the plastic surgery itself, you can claim compensation for any medical expenses suffered during the accident. Since the medical cost of treating road rash can rise to thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars, seeking compensation can provide you the financial help you need to get full medical treatment for your injuries.
- Pain and suffering. Not only does road rash cause severe pain, but you may also suffer long-term as you must restrict your activities during your recovery. Many people also suffer significant embarrassment due to the scarring that results from severe road rash.
- Lost wages. Sometimes, you may not return to work immediately after your accident. In some environments, including working with certain chemicals or near large sources of heat, you may need to wait for road rash to heal before returning to work. In other cases, pain may prevent you from taking up your normal job responsibilities. Fortunately, you can include lost wages as part of your road rash claim.
If you suffered road rash in an accident, whether as a pedestrian, bicyclist, or motorcyclist, you deserve legal help as you seek compensation for your injuries and file your claim. Contact an attorney as soon as possible to begin piecing together evidence from your accident, filing your claim, and seeking compensation for the full cost of your injuries.