Anytime there is an impact to the head, there is the chance that there is going to be a severe brain injury. Head and brain injuries are some of the most serious injuries that a person can sustain. When we are riding on a bicycle or putting our children on a bicycle we make sure that we have a helmet for us or them to wear. However, what happens if the helmet does not perform the way that it should? In addition to riding on a bicycle or motorcycle, helmets are required for many different sports, recreational activities, and for motorcycling. Helmets are used in a wide array of activities like football, hockey, lacrosse, baseball, skateboarding, snowboarding, skiing, and horseback riding. When people purchase and wear helmets, they expect and believe that they will be protected from serious head injuries. Helmets are designed to absorb impact forces, protecting your skull and brain from receiving the majority of an impact. They can help protect against traumatic brain injury, skull fracture, spinal cord injuries, paralysis, paraplegia, quadriplegia, coma, and death. The majority of bicycling and motorcycle accident fatalities resulted from head and brain injuries when cyclists were not wearing helmets. The Consumer Product Safety Commission stated that many of the bicycling fatalities could have been prevented if the victims had worn helmets, and that helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 85%.
Bicycle Helmet StatisticsIt has been estimated that each year approximately 2 percent of all motor vehicle crash death victims are bicyclists. Most of these unfortunate accidents result from injuries to the head. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have helmet use laws applying to young bicyclists; none of these laws applies to all riders. In 2010, 800 bicyclists were killed and 515,000 bicycle-related injuries required emergency-room care. Of those, 26,000 of were some type of traumatic brain injury that might have been prevented by wearing a helmet. In 2013, there were a total of 743 cyclists killed and another 48,000 were injured. Many of these fatalities could have been prevented if the riders had been wearing helmets and if they were effective. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Authority (NHTSA), bicycle helmets are approximately 85 to 88 percent effective in protecting a rider against brain injuries and trauma. However, bicycle helmets are not the only helmets that are effective at preventing death. The NHTSA also cites that motorcycle helmets that meet the Department of Transportation qualifications can reduce traumatic brain injuries by as much as 67 and can reduce the likelihood of a motorcycle fatality down to 37 percent.
How Often Are Helmets Defective or Malfunctioning?Unfortunately, there are many instances where a helmet may be deemed to be defective or it could malfunction. A helmet usually composed of many different straps, buckles, and pieces all of which have the potential of failing and causing the helmet to be ineffective. Improperly molded plastic or incorrect chemical mixtures can significantly change the strength of a helmet’s outer shell. Other common helmet defects include exterior shells failing to withstand impact forces and cracking on impact, inadequate padding on the interior of the helmet, defective chin straps, defective strap tightening mechanisms, and defective buckles, snaps, or fasteners that can cause helmets to fall off during an accident. Thousands of helmets are recalled every year for failing to meet minimum standards helmets must meet in order to provide adequate rider protection, or due to manufacturing defects. In fact, eight different motorcycle helmet models that had stickers certifying they met federal standards actually failed to meet the Department of Transportation’s minimum standards and safety compliance testing. Many people are not aware that there is considerable variation in helmets, and the regulating authorities approve not every helmet. In addition many people are surprised to find that some helmets are designed to only withstand one severe impact. Other helmets are created and designed to withstand multiple moderate impacts. Helmet manufacturers bear the burden of warning their potential consumers if their helmet is only designed to withstand one single blow, or alternatively if the helmet is designed to withstand several smaller impacts. In addition not all helmets are the same, and even if the helmet seems adequate in light of the situation, it may not be designed for the activity that the user is doing. Manufacturers are responsible for indicating what their product is designed for. For example, helmets that are made for horseback riding or rock climbing are not required to meet the same safety regulations of bike helmets, and should not be used when bicycling. Bike helmets, which are meant to withstand a single severe impact, should not be worn for football or hockey, where players are subjected to many moderate impacts. Helmets should have instructions on their proper use, and limitations. Consumers must be warned about what helmets will not be able to protect against, and a manufacturer’s failure to warn consumers may result in catastrophic injuries or death.
Can I File a Claim if I was Injured while Wearing a Defective Helmet?If you were riding a bicycle or motorcycle and wearing a helmet and were subsequently injured even though you were wearing a helmet, you may have a product liability claim if the helmet failed to protect you in the manner that it was supposed to. However before you will be able to recover for your injuries or the death of a loved one you will have to demonstrate that the product was defective. You generally will have to prove the following:
- That the helmet was unreasonably dangerous at the time it left the control of the manufacturer.
- That the helmet failure resulted in or worsened your injuries.