Explore your legal options following a catastrophic injury
There are roughly 1.9 million people living with amputations in the United States. In Tennessee, roughly 4,000 amputations are performed in hospitals every year.
Though some of these amputations are the result of diabetes or vascular disease, many are caused by accidents or intentional acts. If you suffer an amputation as a result of an accident or an intentional act, you may have the right to receive compensation.
Let’s take a look at amputation and disfigurement injuries in the Volunteer State.
What’s the difference between amputation and disfigurement?
The terms “amputation” and “disfigurement” are often used interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing:
- 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 amputations, but also includes things like severe burns that result in permanent scarring.
Under Tennessee law, amputations and disfigurements are mostly treated the same. In this article, we’ll focus on amputations, but we’ll be sure to point out places where the law might differ with respect to disfigurements.
Legal theories that support an amputation injury lawsuit
Unless your amputation injury occurs at work (more on that later), you need to prove that someone was at-fault for your injury in order to receive compensation.
There are 2 ways in which someone might be at-fault:
- The person’s negligence caused your injury, or
- The person’s intentional act caused your injury.
Amputation claims based on negligence
You can file a personal injury lawsuit based on negligence if the person that caused your injury:
- 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. If a driver breaches this duty (by driving while intoxicated or running a red light), the driver is negligent and liable for any injuries they cause.
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.
Common situations in which someone’s negligence may result in an amputation injury include:
- Car accidents
- Truck accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Bicycle accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Train accidents
- Plane accidents
- Defective products
When the paramedics assessed Anna, they found no pulse and quickly transported her onto a stretcher and into the ambulance.
On the floor of the ambulance, there’s a mechanism that locks the bottom of the stretcher in place. The paramedic failed to lock the mechanism. As a consequence, while negotiating a turn, the stretcher swung to the left, resulting in a large gash on the top of Anna’s left foot. Shortly thereafter, Anna’s foot became infected and her leg was amputated above the knee.
The court found that the paramedic was negligent for failing to secure the stretcher in place and awarded Anna $150,000 for pain and suffering, $50,000 for loss of consortium, and $32,091 in medical expenses.
Amputation claims based on intentional acts
You can file a personal injury lawsuit if someone’s intentional act caused your amputation injury.
Consider the following hypothetical example:
Lauren survives the fire, but with severe burns and has to have both of her legs amputated below the knees.
In this example, Lauren could sue Peter for damages because her injuries were caused by his intentional act. This is in addition to the criminal charges Peter would face for arson.
What happens if your amputation injury occurs at work?
Every year, hundreds of Tennesseeans suffer amputations as a result of workplace accidents.
According to the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA), the majority of workplace amputations occur in the manufacturing sector due to unguarded or unprotected machinery such as saws, presses, conveyors and bending, rolling or shaping machines, as well as powered and non-powered hand tools, forklifts, doors, and trash compactors.
Other common causes of workplace amputations include:
- Mechanical power presses
- Printing presses
- Food slicers
- Meat grinders
- Drill presses
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Milling machines
If you suffer an amputation as a result of a workplace accident, you’ll need to file a workers’ compensation claim. Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance that pays financial benefits to people injured on the job.
In Tennessee, most employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance.
Unlike a personal injury lawsuit, there’s no need to prove that someone was at-fault if your accident occurs at work. Rather, you simply need to prove that your injury occurred during the “course and scope” of employment (i.e., while performing a work task).
Workers’ compensation resources
Workers’ compensation claims are different from personal injury claims with respect to how they are filed and what benefits can be recovered. Here are some resources to help you learn more about Tennessee workers’ compensation claims:
What damages can you recover
Amputations are one of the most costly injuries that you can sustain. Some of the costs often associated with amputation injuries include:
- Medical expenses (surgeries, physical therapy, 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)
Fortunately, Tennessee allows plaintiffs in amputation cases to recover both economic and non-economic damages:
- Economic damages include the monetary losses caused by your injury (such as medical expenses and lost wages).
- Non-economic damages include the non-monetary losses caused by your injury (such as pain and suffering).
If the defendant acted intentionally or recklessly, punitive damages may be awarded.
Resources for amputees and accident victims
The road to recovery following an amputation injury is a long one, but it isn’t one you have to travel alone. Here are some resources that can help:
- Amputee Coalition
- National Limb Loss Information Center
- Tennessee Aging and Disability Resource Centers
- Tennessee Department of Vocational Rehabilitation
- Tennessee Department of Protection and Advocacy
- Amputee Support Group - Knoxville, Tennessee