How an accident happened can determine whether you can recover damages in Alabama
The thing about an accident is that it can change your life in an instant.
In the blink of an eye.
While some car accidents and other types of accidents result in only minor injuries—or injuries that can heal with time and treatment—an amputation or disfigurement injury changes your life forever.
Money can't heal your body or mind, of course, but recovering compensation through a personal injury lawsuit can help you have one less thing to worry about during a very trying time.
One of the differences between an amputation injury and other types of injuries (like broken bones, for instance) is that many other injuries, even severe ones, can heal over time. But an amputation injury requires you to adjust your entire way of life... and sometimes, the biggest adjustment is that you're no longer able to work in the capacity you did before the accident.
Amputation is when a limb is removed because of external trauma or an internal medical condition like a bacterial infection. An amputation injury can involve any limb or extremity, including arms, hands, fingers, legs, feet, toes and ears.
Disfigurement is when there's permanent damage to soft tissue (ligaments, skin, muscles, etc.) or bone that includes nerve damage, scarring, burns or other wounds. Amputation is a type of disfigurement.
Alabama newspaper publisher is cited for exposing employees to amputation risk
In a real-life example of how this can happen, Alabama publisher BH Media Group Inc. was ordered to pay $145,858 in penalties after the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited the company in 2019 for risking amputation hazards to employees.
An employee's hand was caught in a stacking machine that started unintentionally during a servicing procedure, and the employee's finger was amputated. OSHA determined that the company failed to effectively guard machinery and had insufficient procedures to prevent unintentional start-ups during service or maintenance. OSHA concluded that the injury had been preventable and that proper lockout/tagout energy control procedures would have reduced the risk for potential amputations. (source)
Common causes of amputation injuries
Although there's a variety of ways an amputation injury can happen, they’re most often attributed to:
- Factory or industrial accidents
- Farm accidents
- Accidents with power tools
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Natural disasters or military combat
Amputation accident statistics
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2018, nearly 60 percent of reported amputations involved some type of machine.
Types of disfigurement injuries
A disfigurement is any injury that leaves you permanently scarred. The most common types of disfigurements include:
- Facial disfigurement from cuts or lacerations as a result of a car or other motor vehicle accident
- 3rd- or 4th-degree burns
- Dog bites
An amputation or disfigurement injury will most likely be either a workers’ compensation claim or a personal injury lawsuit.
Alabama workers’ compensation claims for amputation or disfigurement injuries
If you were injured at work, your first recourse is to file a workers’ compensation claim.
There are 2 ways in which the workers’ compensation system offers benefits that you don’t get through a personal injury lawsuit:
- You can begin to receive benefits immediately after your claim is approved. Personal injury lawsuits can take months or years to reach a verdict, and even then, you might not always receive damages in a timely manner.
- Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system. You don’t need to prove that anyone was negligent—you only have to show that the accident happened on your work site or while you were working and that the injury cost you money. Part of what makes the workers’ compensation system function more quickly than personal injury litigation is that there’s less evidence that needs to be provided since it’s no-fault insurance benefits.
However, when you accept workers’ compensation benefits, you forfeit the right to sue your employer for the injury that’s the subject of your claim. The exception to this is that you can file a 3rd-party personal injury lawsuit if the injury was caused by a person or entity other than your employer.
For example, if a manufacturer was negligent because a piece of equipment was defective, if you’re injured by a hazardous condition on a worksite that’s owned by someone other than your employer, or if you’re involved in a car accident during work, you might be able to file a lawsuit against the person or business that caused the accident.
You can receive benefits from a workers’ compensation claim that include:
- A portion of your lost wages if you’re unable to work
- Medical treatment related to the injury
- Transportation to injury-related appointments
- Job retraining services
Workers’ compensation benefits do not include pain and suffering, emotional distress or other non-economic damages.
Personal injury lawsuits
If you were injured in an accident unrelated to your work, you could claim damages if the injury was caused by the negligence of a person or entity.
In order to recover damages from a personal injury claim, you must prove the following:
- The negligent party owed you a duty of care;
- The duty was breached;
- The breach caused your injury;
- The defendant should have foreseen that their action or inaction could cause an injury; and
- The injury resulted in a financial loss (costs).
The basis of personal injury law is that you’re entitled to remain unharmed while using equipment or products, while you’re lawfully on another person’s property, while using the road legally as a driver, pedestrian, or bicyclist, and in other situations. If someone causes you to be injured, they can be held legally responsible for damages.
The court will look at:
- Economic damages. These are damages that can be quantified (costs for medical treatment, lost wages, adaptive devices, etc.).
- Non-economic damages. These are damages for pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and other losses that don’t have a specific dollar value.
- Punitive damages. Sometimes, the court will assess additional damages that are intended to punish a defendant if it determines that the defendant’s actions were malicious or especially egregious.
An Alabama court may award punitive damages up to 3 times the amount of the total compensatory (economic and non-economic) damages to a maximum of $1.5 million.
Damages in a personal injury lawsuit can include these costs:
- Medical treatment (including surgery, hospital and doctor visits, prescription medications, diagnostic testing, etc.)
- Assistive devices (including wheelchairs, walkers, etc.)
- Home and vehicle modifications like wheelchair ramps
- Ongoing physical and occupational therapy
- Prosthetic devices
- Lost wages and lost future income
- Pain and suffering, PTSD and other emotional distress
- Loss of consortium
- Punitive damages
An amputation is a serious injury—there’s no “minor” amputation. In any personal injury claim, the amount of damages you can recover is based on the severity of the injury, the cost for treatment, length (in weeks, months or years) of treatment, and the injury’s effect on your daily life.
An amputation is likely to have a tremendous effect on your daily life and it might prevent you from engaging in activities you love. That’s worth something—calculating damages will take each of those factors into consideration.
Product liability lawsuits
Personal injury law includes product liability claims. A product liability lawsuit arises when your injury was caused by a manufacturing or design defect.
A study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that nearly 80,000 people per year require hospital treatment from lawn mower accidents. The majority of these injuries are to children under 15 years old. Many of the accidents involved people being struck by flying objects thrown out by the lawn mowers, but more than half of traumatic amputations suffered by children were from lawn mower accidents.
Many of these accidents are because of unsafe use of the product or machines. For example, most children shouldn’t be operating a lawn mower without supervision. But the accidents are often because the manufacturer didn’t include some safety features or instructions.
If you were seriously injured by a lawn mower or any other product, even though you were using it correctly based on its included safety instructions, you might have a lawsuit against the manufacturer because of a defect.
Medical malpractice lawsuits
There are instances when an amputation is the result of medical treatment that went wrong. An infection or surgical mistake can lead to a body part being amputated that wouldn’t have been otherwise.
Alabama pure contributory negligence rule
There are 4 states (and the District of Columbia) that follow a pure contributory negligence rule in personal injury lawsuits. In Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia, if the plaintiff (the injured person) is found to have shared any fault for their injury, they are not permitted to recover damages.
In other words, even if the defendant caused the accident that resulted in your amputation or disfigurement injury, if you could have prevented it and didn’t or if you had some small role in “helping” it to happen, you can’t recover damages.
What to do for an amputation injury
If you’re ever at the scene of an accident where a person appears to have an amputation, there are a few steps you can take to increase the likelihood of a successful reattachment (along with avoiding death or serious illness):
- Call 911.
- Try to stop the bleeding. If there are severed blood vessels, they might spasm and retract into the injured part of the body and shrink, which means a complete amputation might not bleed as much as you’d expect. If there is bleeding, you can:
- First, wash your hands with soap and water to avoid contamination (either to you or the injured person). If there are disposable gloves available, use them. If not, try to use either a clean cloth, plastic bags or any clean (or cleanest) material to prevent your bare hands from touching the wound.
- The injured person should lie down and elevate the body part that is bleeding.
- Remove any visible objects in the wound, and remove or cut off clothing.
- Apply steady and direct pressure for 15 minutes. If blood is soaking through the cloth, apply more cloth without removing the first cloth. Continue direct pressure until help arrives or until the bleeding stops. Often, mild bleeding will stop after 15 minutes of pressure, but it might continue to ooze for 45 minutes afterward.
- Check and treat for shock. Symptoms of shock include:
- Losing consciousness
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Weakness or trouble standing
- Loss of alertness
Shock can be a result of the emotional trauma of the accident.
- Preserve the amputated body part. If the body part can be recovered, make sure it’s transported to the hospital with the injured person. Rinse off dirt or debris, but don’t scrub. If you have dry, sterile gauze or clean fabric, wrap the part and place it in a plastic bag or waterproof container. Place the container on ice, if possible. It’s important to keep the part cool but not put it directly in contact with ice or ice water because that could damage it.
- If the part is partially amputated, apply light pressure so as not to cut off blood flow to the amputated part. Bandage or splint the area to prevent movement or additional damage.
If you’ve suffered an amputation or disfigurement injury, or you’re assisting a loved one who has, it’s important to seek the advice of a personal injury lawyer. These are serious and life-changing events, and you can potentially receive large amounts of compensation because of the severity of the injury.