Putting Words to the Impacts of a Bike Crash
If you’ve ever been tempted to send just that one text, or look up directions while driving (and lets face it, we all have been), a recent Sports Illustrated article detailing former NBA star Shawn Bradley’s bike crash injury helps snap into focus the potential cost of distracted driving.
The 7 foot 6 inch athlete was clipped by a car passing too close after he had signaled and moved to the left to avoid being doored by a parked car. Tragically, he was thrown from his bicycle and the violence of his body slamming to the roadway damaged his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed from the top of his rib cage down.
In the article, Mr. Bradley opens up about all of the ways that an injury like that devastates a person and their family. And while Mr. Bradley faced additional challenges because of his unusual size, most of what he talks about is experienced by every one of our bicycle injury clients in one way or another.
Pain and Suffering
The term “pain and suffering” may conjure images of a late-night personal injury lawyer infomercial, or frivolous lawsuits. Unfortunately, like personal injury work in general, the general public often has a negative view of people being financially compensated for their pain and suffering. However, I think most people would change their mind if they really understood how much a person’s life can be altered by another person’s negligence.
In California, the jury instruction for pain and suffering, CACI 3905A, instructs jurors to consider the following categories when awarding damages to an injured person: “physical pain/mental suffering/loss of enjoyment of life/disfigurement/physical impairment/inconvenience/grief/anxiety/humiliation/emotional distress.” A big part of our job as bicycle accident lawyers is to effectively communicate to an insurance adjuster, defense attorney, or jury how our client suffered in these ways.
The Sports Illustrated article details Mr. Bradley’s suffering in each of these categories. For instance, in terms of physical pain, Mr. Bradley describes painful spasms in his arms and torso after grueling physical therapy sessions. Mental suffering could be used to describe much of what Mr. Bradley has experienced since his crash — from the moments following the crash when he laid on the roadway wondering if he was going to suffocate, to coming to terms with his new physical limitations.
While physical pain is fairly obvious, humiliation or grief may be categories that people don’t normally associate with injuries. Some of our hardest moments as bicycle injury lawyers, however, are seeing our clients suffer in these ways. For instance, Bradley’s wife now sometimes has to help with bowel-movement cleanup if he doesn’t have an aide around. As the Sports Illustrated article puts it, “these are boundaries that Bradley wishes [his wife] never had to cross.” Having to rely on family members for this type of assistance often makes people feel deep embarrassment, shame, and sadness about their loss of independence.
The feeling of being a burden on his family weighs so heavily that he sometimes thinks it would have been easier if he had died. While many people may not want to talk widely about this feeling, it is one that almost all of our clients with traumatic brain injuries or other serious injuries tell us that they experience.
Even for those with health insurance, the financial cost of a serious injury is enormous. The Sports Illustrated article states that a spinal cord injury like Mr. Bradley’s can cost between $300,000 and $1,000,000 to treat in the first year alone. While much of the treatment cost may be covered by a person’s health insurance, there are always deductibles and often substantial copays or coinsurance as well.
On top of medical care, there are also the expenses of things like wheelchairs, new vehicles, furniture, and other items to accommodate the injured person.
For many serious injuries, not all treatment options are covered by health insurance, and to have the best shot at recovery, a person will need to pay out of pocket. For instance, for those suffering from long term effects of a mild traumatic brain injury (mild TBI), there are generally very limited treatment options at a typical hospital or doctor’s office. Specialized clinics are often the only option.
While Bradley is a retired athlete, for most of our clients, an injury like his would also cause a huge amount of lost wages. If a person is injured so badly in a bicycle crash that was someone else’s fault that they can never work again, they are entitled under the law to compensation for their entire future earning potential.
Ripple Effects on Health
The article notes that after suffering a spinal cord injury like that suffered by Mr. Bradley, a person has increased risk for “cardiovascular disease, pneumonia, fatal blood clots, gastrointestinal issues, chronic pain and pressure ulcers, from the many hours he’ll spend moored to beds and chairs” Combined, this means that his life expectancy post-crash is about 3/4 what it was before the crash.
This is true of many serious injuries. Traumatic brain injury lawyers often see the other health problems that a person is at higher risk for after a head injury. After a TBI, a person is 1.5 times more likely to die than persons in the general population of similar age, sex, and race. After 1 year postinjury, people who have suffered from a TBI are 49 times more likely to die of aspiration pneumonia, 22 times more likely to die of seizures, 4 times more likely to die of pneumonia, 3 times more likely to commit suicide, and 2.5 times more likely to die of digestive conditions than persons in the general population of similar age, sex, and race.
Moreover, evidence indicates that a single traumatic brain injury can precipitate or accelerate multiple age-related neurodegenerations, increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and motor neuron disease.
The Struggle to Find a New Normal
As a former professional athlete, the article notes that Bradley’s loss of physical ability has had a particularly profound impact on his identity. But for any injury victim, losing independence — even if the injury and associated loss of independence is less serious than Mr. Bradley’s — is extremely difficult. Finding a new normal may involve profound mental shifts as well as lifestyle changes. For a person suffering from a TBI or PTSD, for example, a city environment may be too overwhelming all of a sudden, even if that person loved living in a city before their injury. And coming to terms with one’s physical or mental limitations caused by a bicycle or motor vehicle accident may take years, or be a lifelong process.
Sharing the details of the impacts of a traumatic injury like Mr. Bradley’s can be very difficult to do. As brain injury attorneys and bicycle accident attorneys, we hear stories like Mr. Bradley’s all the time. But his willingness to open up about his experience helps more people to understand how profoundly an injury affects every part of a person’s life.