Learn how North Carolina’s contributory negligence law might affect the outcome of your catastrophic injury claim
Traumatic amputation is the loss of a body part that happens as a result of an accident or injury. Most often, it’s a finger, toe, arm or leg. This is a permanent disability that affects the injured person in a variety of ways. Aside from the need for one or more surgeries and mobility or movement issues, patients are also often left with a loss of positive self-image or inability to practice self-care.
There is rehabilitation for amputation victims, but some people are more successful in their recoveries than others. Rehabilitation programs are designed to help a patient recover to their highest level of functioning and independence, and to improve their quality of life physically, socially, and emotionally.
Johns Hopkins Medicine says there are several variables that can affect a person’s recovery:
- Level and type of amputation
- Type and degree of resulting disabilities or impairments
- The patient’s general health
- Access to family and community support
Types of traumatic amputation injuries
Partial amputation injury
A partial amputation is an injury where the amputated body part remains partially attached by some bone, tissue, or muscle. This is the most common amputation injury for people outside of military combat.
Within a partial amputation diagnosis, the doctor will also evaluate the degree of soft tissue, nerve, bone, or vascular injury. When your injury is sharp or guillotine-style, the well-defined edges leave minimal damage and often result in an easier reattachment.
Complete amputation injury
A complete amputation injury is when the part is completely severed from the rest of the body.
An amputation that happens by crushing tends to result in a less successful rate of reattachment because there tends to be more soft tissue and arterial damage.
Some people suffer an avulsion amputation, which is forceful overstretching and tearing of tissue. When that happens, it’s unlikely that the limb can be reattached because of extensive damage to all different levels of nerves and vascular tissue at the separation site.
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
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
- Third- or fourth-degree burns
- Dog bites
In many cases, a physical scar can be treated with plastic surgery or prosthetics, but the emotional trauma and mental distress associated with any type of scarring, disfigurement, or amputation injury can last a lifetime.
Legal claims for amputation and disfigurement injuries
If you’ve suffered an amputation or disfigurement injury, there are 2 primary paths to legal (financial) recovery:
- Workers’ compensation claim
- Personal injury lawsuit
What’s the difference?
Workers’ compensation claims
If you were injured at work, or during the course of completing work-related tasks or duties, you’re eligible to file a workers’ compensation claim. There are 2 major benefits to a workers’ compensation claim:
- You can begin to receive benefits immediately after your claim is approved.
- 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.
When you accept workers’ compensation benefits, you give up the right to sue your employer for the injury that’s the subject of your claim. The only time you can file a lawsuit related to a work-related injury is if the injury was caused by the negligence of a third party.
In other words, 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.
Workers’ compensation benefits would provide a portion of your lost wages if you’re unable to work, and it would cover your medical treatment related to the injury. However, workers’ compensation doesn’t cover pain and suffering, emotional distress, or other non-economic damages.
Personal injury lawsuits
If your injury was caused by the negligence of a person or entity (business, government agency, manufacturer, etc.), you can file a personal injury lawsuit.
In order to recover damages from a personal injury claim, you must prove these elements:
- 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.
- The injury resulted in a financial loss (costs).
In essence, you’re entitled to remain unharmed while using equipment or products, when 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 to pay damages.
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
North Carolina’s contributory negligence rule
Each state follows 1 of 4 rules for how a plaintiff’s case is handled based on whether the plaintiff had any role in causing their own injury. In some states, even if a plaintiff had some responsibility for their injury, they can still receive a damage award that’s reduced by their percentage of fault.
North Carolina follows a pure contributory negligence standard, which means that no damages will be awarded to people who share any degree of fault whatsoever.
How might this contributory negligence rule affect an amputation or disfigurement case?
Here’s an example:
You sued the manufacturer of the heating pad. You argued that you used it for its intended purpose and that a short in the heating element caused the item to malfunction, and it is therefore a defective product that caused your injury.
However, during the investigation and examination process, the defense discovers that the item was plugged in when it exploded. The instructions explicitly warn users to unplug the device when not in use and not to use it while sleeping. Because you were sleeping and the device had remained plugged in, the defense is able to argue that although the product was defective, you were also liable because you didn’t follow safety instructions provided by the manufacturer.
In some states, a court might find that you were 20% liable, for example. That court would reduce your damage award by 20%. But in North Carolina, you wouldn’t be able to recover any damages in a personal injury lawsuit under these circumstances.
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 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 that it is 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.
Seek legal recovery
If you or someone in your family has suffered an amputation injury, it’s important to explore your legal options as soon as possible.
If it was a work-related injury for which you’ll be pursuing a workers’ compensation claim, it’s essential that you notify your employer immediately, and the notice has to be provided in writing within 30 days of the accident. You’re also required to submit notice to the North Carolina Industrial Commission within 2 years of the injury, but the sooner you can file, the sooner you can begin receiving benefits.
For a personal injury claim in North Carolina, you have 3 years from the date of the injury to file a claim — but don’t wait that long. There can be several steps in the legal process, and it can take time... especially for a complicated case with a severe injury.
There’s no better time than right now to call a North Carolina personal injury lawyer near you. The Enjuris law firm directory connects you with North Carolina lawyers who are experienced, compassionate, skilled, and ready to handle your amputation or disfigurement injury case.