Amputation occurs when any limb or piece of the body is severed, either in an accident or in a planned surgery. An amputation can be partial or total. Losing a limb entirely can have devastating consequences. People who suffer an amputation or require surgical amputation due to other personal injuries may need medical care and prosthetics for the rest of their lives. They may not be able to work in their current jobs and have to change careers. They may experience significant phantom limb pain as well as debilitating psychological distress. A person who suffers an amputation often has to adjust to a whole new life and relearn basis skills, such as eating, using the bathroom, and walking.
There are two types of amputation: unintentional amputation arising out of a trauma to one or more limbs and intentional surgical amputation. Unintentional amputations can be the result of car accidents, work accidents, or malfunctioning, defective machines. Intentional amputations are usually scheduled procedures to remove a limb due to gangrene, diabetes, bone infection, or another serious condition. They can also be the result of medical malpractice when a doctor does not provide appropriate treatment for a condition before amputation is necessary, the doctor amputates the wrong limb, or there is insufficient medical evidence to support an amputation ordered by a doctor.
The tangible economic damages associated with amputation include medical bills, prosthetic limbs, physical therapy and rehabilitation, lost income, and lost earning capacity. An accident victim’s family members may also suffer certain damages in that they can no longer rely on a severely injured person to perform household chores or even perform basic tasks like driving children to school.
Liability for Amputation Injuries
Workplace accidents in factories and manufacturing plants can give rise to amputation injuries. In most states, workers’ compensation is the only available remedy against an employer if you suffer a loss of limb at work. If an unintentional amputation is caused by someone else’s negligence outside the workplace, however, that person can be sued for compensatory damages. For example, a truck accident can result in the loss of a limb. So can a defectively designed product.
If an employee suffers an amputation at work, workers’ compensation may be their only avenue for recovery against their employer.
In a products liability case, the defendant also can be sued under theories of both strict liability and negligence. Table saw injuries, for example, may result in a loss of limb. The person using the table saw may amputate a finger or other body part. In some cases, the amputation could have been prevented if the product manufacturer had added a safety device to the product, such as flesh-detection technology. Some juries have concluded that a manufacturer’s failure to add safety devices to their saws at a feasible cost constitutes a design defect, allowing people who have lost limbs to recover damages from the manufacturer.
In some cases, a scheduled amputation occurs because poor medical care after an accident led to gangrene that necessitated an amputation, or a doctor failed to appropriately and promptly treat the injury to avoid amputation. Other circumstances that have given rise to medical malpractice lawsuits based on amputation include a surgeon leaving a surgical sponge in a leg, removal of the wrong limb, failure to adequately treat a post-operative blood clot, and a misdiagnosed infection that becomes life-threatening and requires amputation.