All you need to know about liability and damages for these serious injuries
Amputation occurs when someone experiences the removal of a limb, finger or toe because of an external trauma, like a car accident or workplace accident, or because of an intentional medical intervention, like if someone is suffering from a bacterial infection. An amputation can stop the spreading of bacteria, and sometimes that’s the best medical option available.
Disfigurement is permanent damage or scarring to bone or soft tissue, such as fascia, skin, ligaments or muscles. This can be visible damage, like burns or scarring, or it can be inside the body as nerve damage, like intense pain or numbness.
Both disfigurement and amputation fall into the category of “catastrophic injuries,” which require lifelong rehabilitation. Even if the physical rehabilitation doesn’t continue for life, the physical changes are permanent and can forever impact one’s mental and emotional health.
Because of these serious consequences, we encourage accident victims to pursue all aspects of the medical assistance they require. Medical expenses may pile up, but we also encourage you to speak with a personal injury or workers’ compensation attorney to better understand your legal options for financial recovery.
Causes of amputation and disfigurement
Unfortunately, amputation and disfigurement may be part of medical care that is the best course of action for a patient’s survival. In other instances, however, an intentional or unintentional act of negligence may have caused the debilitating accident. In these cases, the other party is likely to be liable for damages that can help pay your bills.
Here are some typical cases that the court system has seen where victims can earn compensation for amputations and disfigurement:
- Dog bites. A dog’s owner is responsible for any scarring or injuries resulting from their pet attacking a human, especially if the animal was a known threat to others.
- Fires/chemical burns/hot liquids. Plastic surgery might be the only way to fix these potentially severe disfigurements.
- Road rash. Hitting pavement or being hit by an airbag can cause burns, abrasions or skin peeling.
- Accidents. Any number of serious accidents may have injuries that cause disfigurement or require an amputation. Accidents causing serious injury commonly include the following:
- Tour buses
- Trucks/tractor trailers
- Amusement parks
What makes amputation and disfigurement injuries more difficult than other legal claims?
Amputation and disfigurement cases are, by their very nature, expensive. They last for the patient’s entire life. The medical care involved is extensive and involved. Keeping track of it all is, to say the least, complicated. (Using a tool like our free downloadable Damages Worksheet can help make sense of it.)
Accident victims will need medications, medical equipment, doctors’ visits, physical therapy, psychological care, and much more over the course of their lifespan if an amputation or disfigurement occurred. To cover all of the medical bills and treatment, detailed medical records and expert testimony will likely be required.
Fault in amputation or disfigurement cases is also trickier than in other cases. Like any other workers’ comp or personal injury claim, Georgia requires that the victim be less than 50% at fault for their accident.
Even after the victim’s fault has been estimated, other parties may be left pointing fingers at each other trying to mitigate liability. For example, if you were in a car accident, the other driver’s attorney may try to argue that the amputation or disfigurement was the result of medical malpractice rather than the injury itself.
In industrial accidents, your employer may try to place blame of the manufacturer of the machinery that caused your accident. It’s not up to you to handle liability arguments among the defendants, but your attorney will help navigate the paperwork and proceedings in a way to keep you informed.
What to do after an accident causing amputation or disfigurement
It can be hard to know how to proceed with a legal claim if you've been in a serious accident. Here are a few steps to take if you're recovering from an amputation or disfigurement:
1. Find an attorney
The first step to filing a claim is finding an expert attorney who understands the ins and outs of amputation/disfigurement law. You should choose a lawyer that you feel comfortable with and who has experience or training in serious accident claims and/or workers’ compensation.
2. Gather evidence
Your attorney will take care of most of the investigation, but it's important to gather all documents and records relating to your case. You may have documents that your attorney didn’t even realize you had, so it’s always better to present all paperwork and receipts connected to your accident or injury. This includes medical information and services, any photographic evidence, police reports and more.
3. Settling or filing a lawsuit
Once your attorney has determined liability and an estimation of how much compensation you are owed, it's time to negotiate with the responsible party's insurance company. If you both reach a fair agreement, you can settle right then and there.
If not, you may file a lawsuit and take your case to court for a judge to determine the outcome. This process is roughly the same for a workers’ compensation case—though workers’ comp claims receive a hearing, not a trial.
Taking a case before a judge is never anyone's first choice. If negotiations don’t lead to a settlement right away, many choose to use the services of a mediator or arbitrator to help both sides reach an agreement without having to face expensive court costs and an extended timeline.
However, sometimes going to court is the only way to reach a sure decision. The best attorneys will prepare their clients for what to expect at a trial or hearing.
Resources for amputation and disfigurement survivors
Sometimes, the best help can only come from those who know firsthand what you’re going through. As much as your family and friends love you, they simply can’t relate to what you’re experiencing. It helps to speak with people who understand your situation, and we encourage you to consider the following resources:
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.