When it comes to head injuries, do helmets make a difference?

Football and biking are top sports and recreational causes of TBIs.

The American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) reports 21% of all traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in youth in the United States are the result of injuries sustained while playing sports or other recreational activities like riding a bicycle. This translates to hundreds of thousands of sports and recreation related head injuries in the U.S. every single year.

Parents and young athletes are wise to act to protect themselves against these injuries. One of the most common tools used to reduce the risk of a head injury is a helmet - but does it work? This piece will delve into the question and explore potential legal remedies in the event one suffers from a serious TBI.

What exactly is a TBI?

First, it is important to understand how a TBI is defined. The AANS defines these injuries as one that disrupts the normal function of the brain. This can occur when the head is suddenly and violently hit against an object. Symptoms can be mild, like a low-grade headache, or severe, loss of consciousness or death.

What are common sports and recreation activities that lead to TBIs in youth?

The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports the following ten leading sports and recreation activities that result in head injuries in the U.S.: cycling, football, baseball, softball, water sports like surfing or water skiing, use of powered recreational vehicles like ATVs and go-carts, soccer, skateboards and scooters, accidents while exercising and winter sports like skiing, sledding, snowboarding and snowmobiling. The CPSC also provided a more specific report, focusing on head injuries in children 14 and younger. The list was similar, with the additions of basketball and trampoline accidents.

Use of a helmet is known to reduce the risk of head injuries for most of these activities, including the top two: cycling and football. Advances in technology have resulted in better, lighter head gear. One example is the use of Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) technology instead of the standard expanded polystyrene (EPS) helmet. EPS involves the use of a Styrofoam like substance to cushion the head. MIPS uses an aluminum honeycomb like structure that is supposed to be like crumple zones in a car. Instead of just cushioning the head, it is supposed to absorb the impact.

Do helmets work?

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) only 29% of reported bicycle fatalities involved bikers who were wearing a helmet. The agency also reports 54% of riders killed in a bike accident were not wearing a helmet and 17% are unknown. Based on these numbers, it appears helmet use reduces the risk of death if hit by a car while biking.

What legal remedies are available for victims of TBIs?

Depending on what caused the TBI, the victim may be able to hold another party financially accountable through a civil suit. This generally involves filing a claim to better ensure the party responsible for the accident is held financially accountable for the cost of the injury. If successful, the compensation is often the responsibility of the individual or business's insurance provider.