Overview and Causes
Almost 2 million people in the United States are living with the loss of a limb, and 185,000 amputations on average occur each year. In almost all cases, a health condition or traumatic event will compel a surgeon to remove or “amputate” the limb. There are a variety of case-specific reasons why a doctor might advise or perform an amputation, including the following.
- Trauma from a car accident, military injury, power tool accidents, factory or job site accidents, or extensive burn
- Poor blood circulation due to narrowing arteries (peripheral artery disease) or diabetes.
- Cancerous tumor in the bone or limb
- Severe frostbite
- Neuroma, a thickening of nerve tissue
- Extensive infection which does not respond to antibiotics
The most common cause of amputation is poor blood circulation. When blood is not circulating properly in an area of the body, oxygen and nutrients cannot reach the cells and the flesh may begin to die, which leaves it vulnerable to infections.
Traumatic amputation occurs when an accident or event severs part of the body. It can be partial, when the limb is still attached to the body, or complete, when total separation occurs. Sometimes it is possible for the limb to be reattached in surgery. Victims of traumatic amputation commonly experience shock, excessive bleeding, and possible infection.
In surgery, the patient will be sedated either through general anesthesia or spinal anesthesia. The doctor will generally try to preserve as much healthy tissue as possible while removing dead tissue. They will check for touch sensitivity, skin temperature, pulse, and color to determine where to cut. Then they will remove any pieces of bone or foreign matter in the wound, smooth uneven areas, and seal the nerves and blood vessels.
Even if an amputation occurs through traumatic injury, a surgeon should clean and repair the wound to make it easier to heal. A wound that heals cleanly and smoothly will also make it easier for the patient to use a prosthetic, if they choose to do so.
After an Amputation
For most patients, after an amputation, there are both psychological and physical challenges to overcome. The hospital stay after amputation surgery varies, but usually lasts between 5 and 14 days. In this time, common post-surgical complications may occur such as heart attack or other heart complications, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pneumonia. DVT is the development of a blood clot in a vein in the leg which can initially cause pain and swelling and, in 1 in 10 cases, may travel through the body to block a blood vessel in the lungs, a condition known as a pulmonary embolism. In addition, as with any major wound, amputation carries serious risk of infection.
Even if the wound heals successfully within the usual four to eight week recovery period, and there are no other post-surgical complications, the patient may experience stump and/or “phantom limb” pain. Stump pain refers to pain originating from the remaining healthy tissue. It may be caused by a poorly fitted prosthetic or nerve damage that occurred during surgery.
Phantom limb pain, on the other hand, refers to sensations of pain that seem to be emanating from the limb that was amputated. It is not “imaginary pain,” because brain imaging scans have shown that the brain is receiving actual pain signals. Symptoms of this kind of pain can be mild to severe, and can be treated in a variety of ways. The doctor may prescribe medications such as anti-inflammatories, anticonvulsants, opioid painkillers, or antidepressants. Alternatives to medication include heat and cold treatment of the affected area, exercise of the remaining limb, massage or acupuncture, and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, in which small electrical shocks are administered through a battery operated device.
Psychologically, a victim who loses a limb must cope with radical readjustment to the world around them and a different body image. They will likely receive extensive physical therapy, both to regain muscle strength in the remaining limb and to learn to use a prosthetic limb. In addition, the social stigma of losing a limb may lead to depression, anxiety, denial and refusal to participate in recovery, and suicidal thoughts. If the amputation was traumatic, a victim may also develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many amputation patients enroll in counseling to help them adapt to their new situation. Support groups can also improve a patient's outlook on life, and often antidepressants are additionally prescribed.
How and When to Bring a Claim
There are a variety of circumstances which might allow amputation victims to recover compensation for their physical, emotional, and financial burdens. The loss of a limb is almost always accompanied by extensive medical bills for a hospital stay, surgery, the purchase and maintenance of prosthetics, and medications. In addition, patients often have to think about how to provide care for their dependents during both hospitalization and recovery. Long-term care, including grief counseling, physiotherapy or occupational therapy, and help in the home, may be necessary. Furthermore, loss of future earning capacity and pain and suffering damages are additionally included in a personal injury claim.
If the injury occurred at work, workers compensation may not be the only legal recourse you have. If a third-party, such as a saw manufacturer or power tool distributor, provides defective products, they may be liable in a personal injury lawsuit, even if the accident happened at work.
If the amputation occurs as a result of an automobile accident, there are multiple parties that could be made liable in addition to the driver of the other vehicle. If struck by a city employee or driver for a trucking company, for example, the company for which the driver works may be considered negligent. If the accident was caused by a faulty or defective part of a car, the automaker themselves could come under scrutiny.
Alternatively, if the surgeon performing your amputation fails to follow an accepted standard of care, and contributes to the loss of a limb or an exacerbation of suffering due to the loss of a limb, they may be sued for medical malpractice. A common example of this is a failure to recognize or the late recognition of an infection in a wound which can lead to a surgical amputation. Another example might be when a physician fails to promptly diagnose and treat an aneurysm or diabetes, which can lead to the need for amputation. In rare cases, surgeons can even misread charts and amputate the wrong part of a person's body.
Contact a Denver Personal Injury Attorney
For a free consultation on your case involving the loss of a limb, contact the Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal today and let us get started on your case. You can reach us at 303-816-8821 or online here.