Handling Amputation Injury Lawsuits: Obtaining Maximum Compensation | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

After recently handling a factory worker amputation case involving the loss of a right thumb, this article explores how an experienced injury attorney makes a huge difference in proving the value of a lost arm, leg, or finger, to obtain the maximum compensation/settlement or verdict for an injured person. 

This is not an exhaustive article but is intended to give basic points on how an injury attorney makes a huge difference in an amputation lawsuit.

Medical Drawings and Illustrations:

Amputated fingers, arms or legs can arise from a wide array of industrial/factory type accidents especially involving high speed machines, cutting instruments, or saws.  In a significant amputation case of a finger, toe, thumb or any body part, if trial is a distinct possibility, our experienced injury attorneys would never go to trial without a series of medical illustrations or drawings by a medical professional.

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For decades we have worked to create custom medical drawings and illustrations showing our clients’ particular injuries.  There are medical illustrators/professionals throughout the United States trained to work with doctors and professionals to create such drawings and illustrations.  Certainly these drawings and illustrations are in medical textbooks, but they are also used in court, forensically, by injury attorneys.  We must pay the medical illustrator for their time and services and obtain all of the pertinent X‑rays, MRIs, CT scans, etc.  And we work with the medical illustrator on a visual design plan.

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An experienced injury attorney actively works with the medical professional illustrator on what each visual drawing or illustration will show.  For example, there may be a visual graphic that shows a positive of an X‑ray, a black-and-white reproduction, beside a medical illustration more graphically depicting what the injury looked like that led to the need for the amputation of the arm, hand or leg.  However, then an attorney must work with the key medical doctor or surgeon involved in the amputation surgery to be sure that the medical illustrations accurately depict the body part.  Sometimes the visual graphics are designed to show a medical instrument or surgical tool actually used in the process of the surgery itself.  Sometimes the surgeon or doctor will correct slight problems with the illustrations before they are finalized and used with the doctor during a deposition or with trial testimony. 

Psychological/Mental Anguish Issues:

The difference between an average injury attorney and a top injury attorney is in best presenting each and every aspect of an amputation or loss of limb.  Failure to pay careful attention to the psychological impact of an amputated leg, hand, finger or toe is a big dividing point.

After working with a client who lost his right thumb and dealing with what he went through for a year and a half, I can better represent a person suffering loss of limb or an amputation.  It is a given that there will be a major psychological impact of an amputation injury.  It is a life-altering event and at any trial there must be a psychological or psychiatric expert to explain how a person deals with loss of a limb or loss of a hand or leg.  There is no exact dollar value on these types of things so an experienced injury attorney must present this evidence in a way that is meaningful and has a serious impact on potential jurors or claim supervisors that may deal with attempting to settle the amputation case.  Not only is preparing the psychologist or psychiatrist exceedingly important, but so is exploring the psychological impact and mental anguish on an amputation victim with coworkers, friends or family.  

Career/Job/Vocational Evidence:

Some of our clients have never heard of a vocational counselor until they are in significant personal injury litigation and have lost their job or chosen career.  However, vocational counselor/experts are a very important part of any personal injury involving an amputation and a loss of job or career.  These professionals conduct an interview and a battery of tests on a personal injury victim who has a substantial interference with their job or career and have substantial lost wages and lost earnings. 

There is a concept under the law called “wage earning capacity” and it requires a job/vocational counselor expert in order to establish what an injury client’s wage earning capacity was before they suffered an amputated body part such as a leg or arm or hand.  It’s not just the last job the client had before suffering the injury and amputation, but it is the highest, best wage that person has earned in their career that may be critical—that may represent the client’s highest prior “wage earning capacity.” 

In one recent case for example my client had worked as an electrician earning $40,000.00 a year, but because of the bad economy had been forced to take a welder job at a factory for only $12.50 an hour.  After he suffered an amputation injury of his thumb, I worked with the vocational expert and obtained not only one report but a supplemental report that showed that his wage earning capacity was actually $40,000.00 per year as an electrician, not $12.50 an hour as a welder, even though the welder job was the last job he had before he suffered the serious crush injury that ultimately led to amputation of his right thumb.  Our firm has handled dozens and dozens of major injury cases over many years, working with these types of professionals to best present evidence of lost wages/lost earnings not only in the past, but establishing future losses based on the past earnings.  Evidence of these losses measured against work life or life expectancy is a key economic loss that must be presented at any trial that is contemplated.  

Costs of Future Medical Expenses and Surgeries –

This is another area of the law that an experienced injury attorney will jump on and establish well before any trial or settlement conference in an amputation case.  An experienced attorney will talk to the surgeons on an informal basis to determine what future medical surgeries or procedures are recommended for someone suffering an amputation of an arm, leg or body part.  For example, if there is a prosthetic lower leg or prosthetic arm, there is a life expectancy of these body prosthetic parts-completely separate from actual future surgical expenses or rehabilitation expenses.  A professional such as a life care planner must review the medical records, check with the surgeon, and check with any company involved in prostheses, to determine the life expectancy and cost of such medical devices.

Potentially of more importance, we must consult with the surgeon who is involved in the amputation surgery to determine if there are any future reconstruction surgeries that can be done to improve the outcome for a person suffering from an amputated body part or amputation surgery.  Incredible modern advances are taking place with regard to reconstructions that can improve the daily life of a person suffering an amputation injury.  For example, for a person suffering a finger or thumb amputation, there is a procedure where a surgeon can conduct a reconstruction of the finger or thumb.  With regard to the very important pincer motion of a thumb, doctors can surgically use a toe-digit reconstruction where a lost thumb is replaced with a great toe which can simulate the grip and pincer motion of the thumb.  Also, with regard to a finger or a toe, there are procedures to re-attach the traumatically amputated digit if the finger or toe is located.

Also, as you may have seen on television programs involving soldiers returning from combat, a number of other medical advances have been achieved not only in reconstruction of a lower leg, arm or fingers of the hand, but also to allow for nerve reattachment and for what are commonly called bionic movements of fingers or legs.  We can work with a life care planner in order to determine the costs of these future procedures and have these costs approved by the surgeon that may conduct the future surgery.

It is important to realize that judges in injury trials will not allow a jury to consider evidence of future medical procedures or surgeries unless a surgeon is familiar with those costs, they are documented in advance, and the surgeon testifies that the surgeries are necessary to a reasonable medical probability.  Moreover, most surgeons do not know specific costs of procedures between their own office billing costs and the hospital billing costs. Surprising as it may seem, this information must be developed weeks or months in advance of deposition or trial testimony of such doctors in order to get the evidence properly before a jury for consideration.

As you can see, courts of law require injury attorneys to carefully prepare evidence in cases of amputation to a thumb, limb or a leg or other body part.  Maximum compensation requires months of preparation and careful work with a series of experts such as those noted in this article.