Amputations, Damages and Getting the Right Prosthetic
In a recent legal case, a 43 year old woman recovered substantial damages after a road accident led to her losing her lower leg. There was a dispute as to what prosthetics her opponent should pay for, and the case shows how important the right prosthetics are for people with amputations and, because good prosthetics are so expensive, how recovering the right level of damages is crucial.
In October 2013 Ms Swift was the front seat passenger in a car travelling on the M5. The car was involved in an accident for which liability was admitted and she recovered damages against the driver.
Both feet and her lower legs were crushed. Her left lower leg was fractured. The blood supply to her leg and foot were damaged and her doctors were unable to avoid amputating the leg below her knee (a trans-tibial amputation). The wound did not heal well and she needed a further operation to revise the amputation stump. She also suffered fractures to her right foot and toes. She had to have a metal plate inserted in her midfoot and wires in her fractured toes.
She was in hospital for about 2 months and then had outpatient care. She was given a prosthetic (artificial) leg in January 2014 and made good progress, managing to walk without assistance by February 2014, even taking public transport. She was keen to increase her level of activity. She was keen to run and pursue lighter sports and by the time of trial had even enrolled in a triathlon.
Phantom Limb Pain
Unfortunately she developed phantom limb pain in the left foot – the sensation of pain in the amputated leg. She described this as being like ‘someone digging something sharp like fingernails into the skin under my toes and scraping it across the width of my foot’. She tried a number of different forms of treatment without success – radiofrequency ablation, mindfulness, mirror therapy, neuromodulation and acupuncture. She accepted that there was no cure for her pain but this only made her more determined to lead an active life for distraction and relief.
Her right foot also remained stiff and very painful. Even with a good prosthesis few people who have had their leg amputated have a normal gait. A normal right ankle and foot would have helped compensate for her abnormal gait but these problems on the right made mobility more difficult for her.
Getting the Right Prosthetics
As a very active woman who wanted to run and play sport, getting the right prosthetics was extremely important. Ms Swift was treated by Abdo Haider at the London Prosthetic Clinic, where she was fitted with an Elation prosthesis. This looks very life-like. It enables her to wear skirts and shoes with heels of up to 2 inches high. However the ankle joint is fixed and, because her right ankle was also very stiff, she finds it tiring to wear.
She therefore trialled a different prosthesis – the Meridian. This is an artificial leg fitted with sensors and a microprocessor ankle enabling the foot to move in a more natural way. She found the Meridian made walking easier, particular on uneven surfaces and slopes. Its disadvantage is that is unsightly – and therefore needed to be worn with trousers or long skirt. She wanted to have both – a leg which looks good and one which functions well.
Her opponent in the claim proposed that she should use the cheaper Echelon prosthesis and there was a dispute between the experts on both sides as to which would be best for her.
The judge accepted that the different prostheses had different pros and cons. However the judge found that Ms Swift’s choice to have the Meridian was entirely reasonable and awarded her the cost of both the Elation and the Meridian. This illustrates an important point about damages. The court does not necessarily require a claimant to choose the cheapest option if her choice, although more expensive, is a reasonable one.
She was also awarded the costs of a limb to use in water (in the shower or when swimming) and a sport activity blade.
How much were her Damages?
Her total award of damages was over £4m. This included the cost (for life) of her 4 prosthetics which – along with some modest additional equipment – came to over £913,000. If this sounds like a lot of money, it is because having an amputation is so disabling. It affects every area of life.
Claims for Damages and Private Prosthetics
Private prosthetics are very expensive. Many people are simply unable to afford them. They are however often of better quality than are available on the NHS. Getting the right prosthetics can enable people to do the things they want to do. Some look better. Others function better. Many people will want a prosthetic that looks good to use for some of the time and one which enables them to do more for use at other times. Where people can recover damages because their injury is due to negligence, those damages can change their lives.
It is important to get the right legal advice for complex claims involving amputation. If you would like to discuss your case with us, please get in touch with our friendly and experienced medical negligence solicitors today.