Poor Helmet and Motor Vehicle Designs Can Lead to Catastrophic Brain and Spinal Cord Injuries

In a recent October issue of The Legal Intelligencer, Larry E. Coben discussed spinal cord and brain injuries in depth, as well as design defects in motor vehicles and helmets that allow such catastrophic injuries to occur in his article “Representing the Catastrophically Injured, Part I.” Coben has represented individuals who have been catastrophically injured or killed nationwide for over 35 years. He is also a shareholder and attorney with Anapol Weiss.

The severity of head injuries is directly dependent on the rate, direction, and peak of acceleration of the brain and the head. While most head injuries occur in mere seconds, their impact can last a lifetime.

Motorists typically suffer spinal cord and brain injuries related to four aspects of car design:

  • If the seat restraint system and “head strike zone” (the roof, windshield, and steering wheel) aren’t designed with head contact taken into account;
  • If the seat belts and air bags are poorly designed, with seat belts that poorly restrain the head and upper torso and/or air bags that are inadequately sized and/or fail to deploy;
  • If the seat backs fail, which occurs when the seat collapses or the height of the seat permits a motorist’s head to rotate backwards violently;
  • If the interior aspects of the motor vehicle have inadequate attenuation, meaning if the instrument panel or roof header intrude into the “head strike zone” or are too stiff. These should be properly padded.

Regarding helmet design, unfortunately, many catastrophic and fatal injuries can be traced to lax standards of helmet testing. Many standards are outdated and permit companies to sell products that proclaim safety but only meet criteria that are obsolete. For example, the ANSI bicycle helmet standard hasn’t updated its testing in over ten years; while the NOCSAE football helmet test standard was adopted in 1973 and only involves a 14 mph or less velocity equivalent. Perhaps most shockingly is the FMVSS218 motorcycle helmet standard, which was implemented in the late 1960s and requires that motorcycle helmets pass an impact test of 400gs in a drop test, but with a velocity of less than 15 mph. Few motorcycle crashes occur at that low of speed.

Many victims of serious car, motorcycle, and bicycle accidents have a higher chance of survival than they did just 10 years ago, thanks to medical advances. However, this means there is a significant number of individuals who have suffered paralyzed spinal cords or serious brain damage, which results in the need for major medical expenses-sometimes projected to exceed $10 million or more for a victim’s lifetime. It is crucial for Philadelphia personal injury attorneys representing those severely injured to work to ensure their clients receive adequate compensation in order to be provided for.

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