Amputations are life-altering events, which, in most cases, can lead to significant changes in a person’s life. Often, an amputation is the result of the negligence of another, in which case the victim could be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. The Amputee Coalition estimates that there are nearly 185,000 new amputation cases each year in the United States, with approximately one upper-limb amputation for every four lower-limb amputation cases.
Amputations are defined as a surgical or traumatic separation of a limb from the body. Approximately one out of every 200 people in the United States has had an amputation of some sort—it could be as minor as losing the end of a finger, or as major as losing both legs or arms. Traumatic amputations are unplanned, and generally result from an accident of some sort. A traumatic amputation could involve an arm, a hand a finger, a leg, a foot, a toe or an ear. Some of the more common forms of accidents which can result in an amputation include the following:
- Any type of traffic accident, including those from a car or pickup, a truck or motorcycle, a bicycle or pedestrian or a train or airplane accident;
- Agricultural accidents which are the result of a lawnmower, tractor, hay baler, rototiller, or grain silo;
- Accidents caused by electrocution;
- Accidents caused by a heavy door, or even an automobile door;
- Factory accidents caused by any number of machines;
- Construction accidents caused by heavy equipment or power tools;
- Firearm accidents;
- Explosive accidents;
- Fireworks accidents, and accidents in which a person’s ring catches on a moving object.
Some additional statistics regarding amputations:
- Motor vehicle accidents are, by and large, the most common cause of traumatic amputations, followed by industrial and agricultural accidents;
- As many as 600 children undergo amputations due to a lawn mower accident every year;
- About a quarter of all amputations are the result of a traumatic accident;
- The majority of all traumatic amputation victims are between the ages of 15 and 40;
- More than three-quarters of all accidental amputation victims are male;
- Losing one or more fingers is the most common traumatic amputation;
- Complications among amputees are common, with nearly a quarter of those who had a lower limb amputation being readmitted to the hospital within a month;
- The primary causes of amputation, other than traumatic accidents, are vascular disease, such as diabetes and PAD and cancer, and
- African-Americans are four times as likely to suffer an amputation as Caucasians.
An amputation can be complete or partial, and are also classified according to the injury method. When the amputation has clean, well-defined edges and localized damage to the surrounding tissue it is known as a guillotine amputation, while a crush amputation will encompass more tissue damage. If there is stretching or tearing of the tissue, it will be known as an avulsion amputation and has likely caused extensive damage to the tissues, nerves, bones and blood vessels. It is unlikely the body part could be re-attached in an avulsion amputation.
The Financial Cost of an Amputation
It is likely that the financial expense related to medical treatments and procedures for your amputation are substantial. Victims who have suffered an amputation of a limb will likely spend an extensive amount of time in the hospital following their accident then will require long and intensive therapy and rehabilitation. Many of those who have suffered an amputation will require a prosthetic, which can add tens of thousands of dollars in medical expenses and will likely need to be replaced every two to six years.
A study done by the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy estimates that the total lifetime cost of a traumatic amputation is $509,272. This amount includes initial hospitalization costs, the cost of future hospitalizations, rehabilitative services, doctor’s visits, therapy, and the cost of prostheses. The above figure does not include a potential medical issue which led to the amputation, which brings medical costs of its own. It also does not factor in economic losses from loss of job earnings.
Depending on the limb which was amputated, it may be necessary to make modifications to the victim’s home in order to make it more accessible. Most of those who have undergone an amputation have also suffered a loss of income from their prior place of employment and it may be difficult to ever find comparable employment. Many amputees will require vocational training in order to find another employment position. All in all, insurance often fails to adequately cover all the expenses associated with an amputation.
Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Lawsuits in California
As with all states, California sets a limit on the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit after suffering a personal injury, such as an amputation. The California statute of limitations regarding personal injury cases can be found under California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 335.1, and allows you two years from the date of the accident to file suit against those responsible for your injuries. If you should fail to file within the two-year statute of limitations, you could be barred from ever bringing suit against the negligent party, and all your rights to compensation could be lost. If your injuries were due to the negligence of a governmental entity, you have only six months to file a personal injury claim, and must adhere to strict procedural rules.
Shared Fault Laws in California
If the defendant in your case claims at least some of the responsibility for the accident lies with you—and has proof to back up that claim—then your compensation could be affected. The state of California follows a pure comparative negligence rule, meaning the amount of compensation you are entitled to may be reduced by an amount equal to your percentage of fault. You can find more information regarding California’s pure comparative negligence rule in California Civil Code Section 3333.4. Also of note, the California Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act has placed limits on specific types of non-economic damages in a medical malpractice case.
Types of Damages You May Be Entitled to for Your Amputation Claim
When you file a personal injury case in the state of California, the damages received are intended to make you “whole” following your injury. Obviously, in the case of an amputation, no amount of money could ever accomplish that, however you may be entitled to the following:
- Compensation for all medical bills associated with the injuries you sustained in the accident. This includes hospital bills, doctor bills, physical therapy, occupational therapy, nursing home stays, home nursing care, prescription drugs and any adaptive devices necessary.
- Lost wages, including missed work due to the injury or treatment of the injury. If you are permanently unable to work because of the injury, then you may be entitled to lost wages in the amount you would have earned over the course of your lifetime.
- Pain and suffering can be more difficult to quantify, however insurance companies often use a “pain multiplier” to arrive at a reasonable figure for pain and suffering. This can involve multiplying actual financial losses time a specific number, usually between 1 ½ and 5.
- Emotional distress damages may be warranted for the victim of an amputation, however must generally be backed up by a diagnosis of PTSD or psychological records.
- Loss of companionship or consortium is generally brought by a family member of an individual who has been altered in a significant manner by the injury. Loss of consortium can compensate a spouse who loses the ability to have an intimate physical relationship with the injured person.
- Finally, punitive damages are warranted in some personal injury cases, and, rather than being meant to make the plaintiff whole again, punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for particularly willful or negligent behavior, deterring this type of behavior in the future.
If you are the victim of an amputation which was the result of the negligence of another person, it could be extremely beneficial to speak to a Los Angeles personal injury attorney to determine if you could be eligible for medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering related to your amputation accident.