How to recover damages after suffering an amputation or disfigurement injury that will affect you for the rest of your life
Antania Mingo-Lewis was driving on Hardscrabble Road in Columbia, South Carolina when suddenly everything went dark.
She woke up 5 days later in a hospital with an amputated leg. Her daughter was in the same hospital with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and her son was dead.
Antania would later learn that the vehicle she was driving was struck by a drunk driver. The engine crushed her leg, and the only way to save her life was to amputate her leg.
As Antania and others like her know well, amputation and disfigurement injuries can be catastrophic. If you suffer a catastrophic injury as a result of an accident or an intentional act in South Carolina, you may have the right to receive compensation.
How are amputation and disfigurement injuries defined?
The terms “amputation” and “disfigurement” are sometimes used interchangeably, but they’re 2 distinct types of injuries:
- Amputation refers to the removal of all or part of a limb or extremity.
- Disfigurement refers to an injury that impairs a person’s appearance. Disfigurement injuries include, but are not limited to, amputations.
Legally speaking, there’s not much difference between amputation and disfigurement injuries. We’ll focus on amputations in this article, but we’ll be sure to point out any areas where the law might differ with respect to disfigurements.
How common are amputations?
There are currently 1.9 million people living with amputations in the United States. An average of 507 people per day lose limbs.
The number of amputations in South Carolina has been trending upwards for several years and the number of amputations per year is expected to double by 2050.
Most amputations in South Carolina were performed on individuals aged 45-64 years old. The major causes of amputation include:
- Vascular disease
- Surgery to remove tumors from bones and muscles
Trauma refers to the loss of a body part that occurs as the result of an accident.
What commonly causes amputation injuries?
Traumatic amputations can result from any number of accidents, including:
What legal theories support an amputation lawsuit in South Carolina?
To receive compensation for your amputation injury, you generally need to prove that someone else was responsible (i.e. “at fault”) for the accident that caused your injury.
In most cases, this means proving that:
- Someone else’s negligence caused your injury, or
- Someone else’s intentional act caused your injury.
Negligence-based amputation claims
To establish a claim based on negligence in South Carolina, you need to prove that the defendant:
- Owed you a duty of care,
- Breached the duty of care, and
- The breach was the cause of your injury.
In most situations, people owe a duty to exercise “reasonable care” to avoid harming others. For example, drivers owe others on the road a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid an accident.
In a small number of situations, the duty owed is higher than that of reasonable care. For example, common carriers (people who transport others for a fee, such as taxi drivers and bus drivers) owe a duty to exercise “the highest degree of care” to avoid harming their passengers.
The wires in question were strung at a height above the water estimated at 3-5 feet for the neutral wire and 10-12 feet for the live wire. The line, which carried 7,200 volts of electricity, had been “temporarily” attached to a pine tree following the breaking of a pole and had remained there for 3 years.
When Liston attempted to retrieve his lure, he came into contact with the electrical transmission wires. As a result of the incident, Holmes suffered multiple severe injuries, including an injury necessitating the amputation of his left hand and a part of his arm.
Holmes filed a negligence lawsuit against Black River Electric Cooperative, alleging that the wires transmitting electrical current were at an unsafe height and not properly maintained.
The jury returned a verdict in favor of Liston.
Some amputees can establish a claim based on someone’s intentional act. For example, if someone intentionally shoots you in the hand and you’re forced to have several fingers amputated, you can sue the individual who shot you for civil damages (in addition to the criminal charges they will likely face).
What happens if your amputation injury occurs while you’re at work?
The process for recovering damages after an amputation injury that occurs at work is different from the process for recovering damages after an amputation injury that occurs outside of work.
Workers’ compensation provides financial benefits to individuals who are injured while on the job. In South Carolina, almost all employers with 4 or more employees (full or part-time) are required to carry workers' compensation insurance.
Workers’ compensation is an exclusive remedy, which means that you have to file a workers’ compensation claim in lieu of a personal injury lawsuit if you suffer an amputation injury at work. The good news is that a workers’ compensation claim doesn’t require you to prove that anyone was at fault for your accident. You simply need to establish that:
- Your employer has workers’ compensation insurance, and
- Your injury arose out of and in the course of your employment.
What damages can you recover from an amputation injury lawsuit in South Carolina?
Amputations can be incredibly costly. A few of the many costs often associated with amputation injuries include:
- Medical expenses (surgeries, acute rehabilitation programs, pain medication, in-house care, etc.)
- Psychological counseling
- Lost wages (amputation injuries may prevent you from working for a period of time, or may prevent you from returning to the same job)
In South Carolina, plaintiffs may be able to recover 3 types of damages in a premises liability case:
- Economic damages include the monetary losses caused by the accident (medical expenses, lost wages, property damage)
- Non-economic damages include the non-monetary losses caused by the accident (pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium)
- Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant and are only available in cases where the defendant acted willfully or recklessly
Resources for South Carolina amputation survivors
Amputees often require lifelong physical and mental treatment. Fortunately, the long road to recovery doesn’t have to be walked alone. Here are some resources for amputee survivors:
- Amputee Coalition: Find a Support Group
- National Limb Loss Resource Center
- Palmetto Amputee Network
- South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs
Ready to talk to a South Carolina attorney about your amputation or disfigurement claim? Find one using our free online directory.