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How to fall -- and survive

Much of our work is about injuries caused by falls -- in all kinds of circumstances. We seek compensation for people falling from trucks, ladders, rooftops, power poles, billboards, scaffolds, bridges - even stepstools.

A question we are asked sometimes is: How far can you fall and survive?

The answer is that there is no height above which a person dies and below which a person recovers.

We are aware of cases - not many -- of individuals surviving free falls from airplanes. And there are cases of individuals missing a single stair and breaking their neck and dying.

Fall survivability is about physics, geography and luck. A fall on the moon is less dangerous than a fall in Central Park - weaker gravity.

The Committee on Trauma for American College of Surgeons defines a threshold at which a fall is likely to cause serious injury: 20 feet (6 meters). Of course, everything depends on how you land, and what you land on.

A cliff-climber told us he is no more afraid of a fall at 500 feet than a fall at 50 feet. "They're about equally bad. The shorter fall will hurt you less if you have a soft landing, on pine branches, say. If you land on bare rock, that's bad."

Falls are among the most permanently disabling of all injuries.

A Wiki-How feature recommends these steps in minimizing injuries from a fall:

  • Grab something on your way down - a branch, a gutter, a flagpole or some other structure.
  • Try to break your fall into parts. "Bouncing" slows you down.
  • Relax your body. Make yourself as soft as you can.
  • Bend your knees to minimize breakage, and to "roll," spreading the impact.
  • It is better to land on your feet, which are more designed to absorb shock than any other body part.
  • Protect your head. The worst injuries are those to the brain.

Note: These are not medical or legal recommendations - just the opinions of people online who have survived falls.

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