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Medical Negligence

Advice on amputation claims following medical negligence

Updated: 12th Apr 2022
6 minute read
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About the Author

Medical Negligence Solicitor - BSc (Hons) Biomedical Sciences, Queen Mary University

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It can be easy to take our bodies for granted. If you consider the role each limb plays in what we do each day, the thought of losing one or more can be highly distressing.

So, when someone does lose a limb, be it due to an acute injury or condition like a blood clot, or as the result of a long-term illness, the physical and emotional trauma can be immeasurable.

Of course, healthcare professionals do everything in their power to prevent this from happening – sometimes it is the only thing that can be done to save someone’s life. However, sometimes it is possible that, if action had been taken sooner to address a person’s injury or illness, an amputation could have been avoided altogether.

Here, we discuss what medical mistakes may lead to a preventable amputation, and the difference that compensation can make following an amputation claim.

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How can amputations be caused by medical negligence?

When we talk about amputations caused by medical negligence, these often fall into one of two categories:

  1. A delay in treating an acute injury or condition – one that is severe with sudden onset
  2. A delay in treating a long-term health condition or allowing deterioration so that a patient needs a limb amputated

This can affect any part of the body, from fingers, hands and arms, down to legs, feet and toes. However, lower limb amputations are more common.

An example of an acute injury or condition could be the development of a blood clot at the back of the knee or calf. If someone experiences Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) or an embolism for example, the clot could quickly restrict blood flow to a person’s extremities.

If DVT or a blood clot is misdiagnosed, or treatment is unreasonably delayed, it may mean the window of opportunity to treat it with anticoagulant medicine or bypass surgery has passed. If the tissue in the leg starts to die, leading to infections and gangrene, there may now be no other solution than to amputate.

Therefore, if a healthcare professional failed to identify the signs or symptoms of a blood clot, and this directly caused their patient to have a limb amputated, they may be liable for a medical negligence claim.

Amputations may also result from a failure to diagnose or treat a longer-term condition. For example, Buerger’s Disease is a disease of the small and medium arteries and veins that restricts blood flow to the hands and feet. It is almost exclusively seen in male smokers.

If a healthcare professional misdiagnoses this condition at an earlier date, this delay in treatment could allow a person’s hands or feet to develop gangrene, leaving amputation as the only option. Again, this could be viewed as negligence.

Further examples of amputations and limb loss due to clinical negligence

Mismanaging of diabetic patients

According to the NHS, people with diabetes are 15 times more likely to require an amputation in their life than someone without the condition, while diabetes leads to approximately 9,500 leg, foot or toe amputations per year.

While sometimes amputations are inevitable or due to a person’s mismanagement of their own diabetes, it can be a result of negligence. For example, diabetic people may be affected by peripheral neuropathy, which is numbness in their fingers and toes.

Consequently, someone with diabetes may not notice cuts, bruises and blisters on their feet. If they become infected, this could eventually lead to an amputation if left untreated.

So, if a healthcare professional overlooks these issues, or mishandles the treatment of these infections, this negligence may lead to the patient requiring an amputation.

Mishandling of crush injuries

Following a car accident or a significant fall for example, it is possible for a person to suffer crush injuries. The severe trauma caused to a person’s limb may mean that amputation is absolutely unavoidable. However, in other cases it will be possible to save the limb.

So if a healthcare professional overlooks these injuries, or does not recognise the severity of the injury, then resultant delay could rule out the possibility of the limb being saved.

However, in cases where a patient suffers from multiple crush injuries at once, it is reasonable for a medical professional to prioritise the most life-threatening injuries first, such as to the head, neck or spine. If treating these injuries delays treating an arm or leg injury, this may be considered a reasonable delay.

Surgical complications

If a patient develops an infection following surgery, this could lead to conditions like osteomyelitis, a painful infection to the bones, which can often be treated with antibiotics. But, if the infection is particularly resistant, amputation may be the only option.

There is a greater risk of this occurring in surgeries where an implant or prosthesis is being introduced, such as a hip or knee replacement. If the signs or symptoms of an infection after surgery are missed by the surgeon or another healthcare professional, this may be considered negligent.

How common is negligence during an amputation?

While you may have seen news stories over the years about surgeons amputating the wrong leg or removing more of a limb than was necessary, we feel it is important to note that these are incredibly rare events.

Incidents such as this would be classed as a ‘never event’ – something that would have been avoided if the medical professional responsible had followed all correct protocols and instructions. Between 1 April 2021 and 1 January 2022, the NHS has reported just 349 never events across the country.

You can learn more about never events here.

How do you prove that an amputation was the result of negligence?

It can sometimes be tricky to prove that an amputation was the direct result of medical negligence. You must determine at what point it became impossible to prevent an amputation, and whether one or more healthcare professionals could have done something prior to this.

To do this, we work with expert, independent healthcare professionals who can determine the latest time when the injury could have been successfully treated to avoid an amputation. Of course, it is virtually impossible to pinpoint an exact time and date where the loss of a limb could have been prevented.

However, in medical negligence claims causation is judged based on whether something was more likely than not to be the case – known as the Balance of Probabilities. This means that a medical expert would tell us when it was most likely that an amputation could no longer be prevented, and what could have been done sooner to stop it reaching this stage.

To establish this date, we assess every piece of available evidence, this may include:

  • Medical records
  • Notes of nurses tracking the patient’s progress
  • Photos taken by the patient of the affected body part over time
  • The claimant’s account of their experiences

For this reason, negligence solicitors will often look to establish causation of an amputation prior to investigating whether a healthcare professional breached their duty of care. This is helpful for a couple of reasons:

  • It is possible for several healthcare professionals to have seen the claimant both prior to and after the point of no return, so this helps to determine if quicker action by a healthcare professional could have made a difference or not
  • It will inform us whether an amputation could have been prevented by the time a client first visited a healthcare professional, or if it was already too late to do anything

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How can an amputation impact your life?

An amputation is life-changing for the person affected. While prosthetic limbs can help by increasing functionality, it will often take a long time for someone to adjust to their new capabilities and lifestyle. Even the simplest things, like picking up a bag or kicking a ball, may no longer be possible depending on what is lost.

Psychological impact

Losing a limb will inevitably affect someone psychologically and emotionally. People will have to change routines and behaviours, and this can be a difficult adjustment for many.

It can negatively impact both your self-esteem and body image. Furthermore, an amputation can often lead someone to lose aspects of their independence, and require them to ask for help more often. This can be hard to come to terms with, and be a blow to their dignity and self-worth.

Work and loss of earnings

A person who loses a limb may no longer be able to perform the job they previously had, or approach it in the same way. For example, someone with a prosthetic leg may find it harder to do long stints of shift work, or will need to take more regular breaks to manage their discomfort. This can have a knock-on effect on how much they can earn, and limit future job opportunities.

In addition, getting to and from work may be difficult. Travelling via bus or train can be harder if someone is now walking with crutches, or a wheelchair user. If a person used to drive to work, they may need to buy a specially adapted car to make this possible in future.

Life at home

Even the simplest actions, such as climbing the stairs, cleaning the kitchen or bathing can become significantly more challenging for someone following an amputation, or impossible without assistance.

Social life and relationships

From no longer being able to take part in beloved hobbies, to losing the spontaneity to go out at any point in time, an amputation can drastically impact someone’s social life. This may also extend to current and future relationships, as a lost limb may mean someone is more self-conscious about their appearance.

If someone can no longer perform certain actions on their own, they may feel like a burden on their friends and family, hurting their self-esteem further.

How much compensation can you receive for an amputation claim?

While compensation cannot replace the limb lost following an amputation, it can be crucial in helping someone restore as much of their prior independence as possible, and support them and their loved ones through changes to their lifestyle.

Compensation can help to cover a number of essential costs, including:

  • Any prosthetic limbs or mobility aids, such as crutches and wheelchairs
  • Adaptations to the home, such as wet rooms, stairlifts and remote-controlled technology
  • Physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and other ongoing treatments
  • Therapy and psychological treatments
  • Loss of income

The amount of compensation awarded will vary significantly from case to case, depending on both the nature of the injury and how the amputation has directly affected a person’s lifestyle and earning potential.

For instance, the loss of a little finger would be much more impactful for a pianist than for other professionals. This could greatly influence their future earnings and job prospects, as they would no longer be able to perform to their previous standard, as well as affect their ability to play for their own personal enjoyment.

Therefore, a pianist is likely to receive a greater amount of compensation for an amputated finger than someone else because of the long-term ramifications it would have on their lifestyle and employability.

As specialist negligence solicitors, we will take the time to recognise how an amputation has changed you or your loved one’s life, to ensure the compensation you receive reflects this impact.

Speak to us about making an amputation negligence claim

An amputation is something nobody wants to experience, and is always approached as a last possible resort. Sometimes there is no other option – but if earlier action could have prevented you or a loved one from losing a limb, no matter how large or small, you deserve justice.

At Gadsby Wicks, we work closely with you to understand your experience and circumstances, and thoroughly investigate every detail to help you claim for compensation and achieve the best possible outcome.

  • We assign one dedicated medical negligence solicitor to your case who will be with you from beginning to end
  • We work on a ‘No Win, No Fee’ basis – we only get paid if we win your case
  • We have connections with trusted, impartial medical experts, who are both working in their field right now and understand the legal tests we require
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Let us help you regain your independence. Get in touch with our team, or complete our ‘Do I have a claim?’ form to get started today.

Disclaimer

All content contained within this article is meant for general information only – this should not be treated as a substitute for medical advice from your doctor or another healthcare provider. If you require legal advice specific to your situation, please contact our team directly.

Gadsby Wicks is not liable for any diagnosis made from the content of this article, nor does it endorse any service or external site linked to within the article.

Always consult your GP if you are concerned about your health and wellbeing, or speak to us if you require legal advice.