Prosthetic Limbs & Personal Injury

We have seen encouraging development in the field of prosthetic limbs over recent years; a far cry from the makeshift wooden blocks once used to return an amputee into society. How though does the law view these limbs in the situation of sustaining damage negligently? As part of a person or simply property?

The History of Prosthetics

Prosthetic limbs date back to early civilisations. The oldest known prosthetic was a false leg taken from a roman burial from around 300bc which suffered the unfortunate fate of being destroyed in a World War II bombing raid. However, in 2012, a prosthetic toe was found belonging to an Egyptian which dates back to around 710bc – 950bc. Early prosthetics of the time were designed to give “fullness” to the wearer as those who suffered an amputation would want to pass through to the next life whole.

Later developments during the middle ages were made so that the limbs replaced severed appendages lost in battle, designing them so they were able to perform a simple purpose such as a hand that held a shield or a leg that easily fit inside a stirrup. One of the most notorious prosthetics of the time was the ‘Iron hand of Götz Von Berlichingen’ which made the knight quite a fierce and imposing figure on the battlefield.

Gotz Von Berlingenen Hand

During the 17th to 20th centuries, artificial limbs began to look similar to that of a natural appendage, moving closer to the real article to help wearers feel more comfortable in public. Limbs, like the first non-locking below the knee prosthesis, were introduced; allowing a user to walk normally with bendable knees.

Large strides were made following both World Wars, as for the first time in history we saw mass amounts of people require prosthetics to allow them to operate away from the battlefield. With around 67,000 German amputees and 4,000 US amputees alone in World War 1, there was a need for advances in the development of hands, arms, legs and foot prosthetics.

The most recent improvements have ranged from allowing athletes to achieve similar times to able bodied athletes, attempting to simulate touch to send signals to the rest of the body, and creating limbs that operate using signals from the brain.

 

How we went from peg legs to biotic limbs: Source

 

Personal Injury or Property?

Given there have not yet been any landmark cases in the UK regarding damage to artificial limbs, it is hard to give a definite answer when asking if a damaged prosthetic constitutes property damage or personal injury. The main talking point revolves around the ability to cause physical pain when bringing up a personal injury case. With artificial limbs rapidly improving year on year, the ability to rule them as simply property is becoming harder for all in the legal industry. Both sides give credible cases.

 

No Pain, No Personal Injury

The current legal ruling is that any damage caused by a person’s negligence to a prosthetic limb would only constitute property damage on the basis that the limbs are simply mechanical devices causing the user no pain should they suffer harm.

While there isn’t any case evidence of the legal standpoint in UK law, there have been multiple articles commentating from the United States’ point of view. All articles address the issue utilising the above point regarding property not being part of a person.

 

Assimilation Makes Damage Personal

The alternative argument for prosthetics being included in a personal injury case, is the degree to which the user feels the limb is a natural part of their body. If somebody uses their artificial hand, arm, leg or foot regularly, and feels it is a part of them, that limb could potentially be considered as integral a body part as any natural part.

While originally limbs were cruder in design and served a very functional purpose, the advance in their integration into the body could see them viewed in future as important as the rest of their limbs. With newer prosthetics able to read nerve responses and be controlled via brainwaves, a newer amputee may begin to feel as though that limb is the same as it was previously except made from a different material.

Amputation injury, prosthetic leg

Setting Precedents

While this area of law would currently still favour the accepted notion that prosthetics are “property” due to the previous nature of these limbs being purely functional, the rapid advance in technology could open up future debate regarding their connection to the person they are part of.

Sincere Law Catastrophic Injury Partner Chris Walker spoke to us regarding the issue, stating “Currently the law favours the stance that artificial limbs operate outside the body, hence being property. It also accepts that no harm or pain comes to the person if damaged. However; it can be feasible to think in the future, that new technology could bring that theory into question. Anything is possible in science and we are continually seeing strides made in this field. As injury solicitors, we always strive to return a victim to how their life was before an accident. With artificial limbs approaching biotic integration, it is becoming easier for us to achieve this as we get to see our clients happy that life is not as drastically affected as first feared.

Will we ever see a further movement to produce prosthetics that are more biotic than robotic? The future is (as usual) unclear, and despite the strides towards helping amputation victims regain as much of their former self as possible; the law will continually need to take stock as to whether the devices attached to them are still simply property, or eventually become part of a person’s natural body.

 

Sources:

Götz Von Berlichingen Hand – commons.wikmedia.org

Amputee Cyclist – commons.wikimedia.org

 

Amputations – The long term effects  

Amputations (of any body part) are a major change in a person’s life, almost intrusive on a personal level. Usually they occur when a body part is majorly injured or infected. In simple terms they are described as the “surgical removal of a body part”. In the UK, over 5,000 major limb amputations are thought to be carried out each year according to the NHS.

This past month, a news story has been circulated around many of the main media outlets regarding the unfortunate incident involving a teenager (Leah Washington)  requiring an amputation to her leg following a ride malfunction at the popular theme park Alton Towers.

The incident took place on a ride which has been plagued with problems it’s entire working life, The Smiler. Serious injuries on rollercoasters are thankfully not a common occurrence due to the strict testing each one must go through to ensure any thrill seeker on board is as safe as possible. Unfortunately however, amputations occur in all manner of circumstances elsewhere in life. Some of the more common causes include:

  • Road traffic accidents
  • Industrial accidents
  • Work accidents
  • Clinical negligence cases
  • Serious infections
  • Cancers
  • Diabetes

In all instances, including Leah’s this summer; they can have very serious consequences.

 

Amputations, Serious Injury, Sincere Law, Solicitors, claims

The Smiler was the cause of the accident resulting in Leah’s amputation

 

Instant Aftermath

Amputations are instantly life changing ordeals. After living your entire life with full function, that normality is completely thrown into disarray. As soon as they leave the hospital, an amputee may suffer emotional scars as they see themselves without a body part. This can cause serious self esteem problems.

At the same time, it’s a steep learning curve requiring to adapt life and everyday situations to not having that body part, be it an arm, hand, leg, foot or even fingers or toes. Upon arriving home even basic tasks could turn into a drawn out, laborious process. An amputee may have trouble performing tasks such as:

  • Walking up stairs
  • Moving around the house
  • Opening doors and cupboards
  • Holding regular household objects

The time required to get used to this has to be rapid as the affected person will never be able to perform those tasks the same again. Thankfully, due to advancement in scientific development, we are much better able to simulate having these limbs now, but even that isn’t a replacement for the damage caused.

 

Long term scarring

It’s not unusual for an amputee to be forced to leave their job depending on the physical strain required, or adapt their role to allow them to continue. Thankfully in the UK those suffering from an amputation are currently entitled to disability benefits in some capacity; however, this is unlikely to match potential earnings an amputee could have with a long, prosperous career.

After her Alton Towers ordeal, Leah will likely have to adapt her future life around what she is and isn’t physically able to do. This is the case for most negligence victims with amputations, and this will not only affect her, but her family too. Not being able to fully enjoy physical activities the same will be a lasting side effect alongside taking longer to travel on foot, requiring more time planning.

The cost of life could increase with an amputation as alterations to housing could have to be made or equipment purchased to make life easier. In Leah’s case she may require a prosthetic or a wheelchair when out of the house to assist with movement. This also is a common long term after effect of an amputation.

 

Serious Injury Claims, Sincere Law Solicitors

Dramatic lifestyle changes may be required following an amputation

 

Options following surgery

If you or a loved one were to suffer an accident resulting in amputation, you or they would almost certainly need to alter your lifestyle and living conditions in some form. If the amputation was caused as a result of somebody else’s negligence, then there would be scope to be able to recoup the damage caused and allow you or your loved one to secure themselves financially following the injury. While full recovery will never be a possibility, the financial burden of requiring lifestyle changes due to somebody else’s fault can be eased.

Nobody should be left to carry the burden for the cost of an amputation caused by another (mentally as well as financially). Leah will now have to live without the lower half of one leg due to an accident as the result of a defect that, all being well, could have completely changed the events of that day.

Sincere Law has been dealing with serious injuries like Leah’s leg for over 20 years, with many cases involving amputated limbs during that time. We’ve learned the importance of life after amputation and if it was ever to happen to yourself or a loved one, you need to know what you can do to get life back to normal, including claiming compensation. If you or your family member ever suffers from misfortune as a result of another’s negligence, please call us on 0800 092 2896 or contact us via www.sincerelaw.co.uk to see what we could do for you.