Two million amputations in the U.S.
Amputation is the surgical removal of all or part of a limb or extremity such as an arm, leg, foot, hand, toe, or finger. Around two million people in the U.S. are living with amputated limbs, from children to Veterans.
The most common reason for amputation is poor circulation due to narrow arteries. Doctors call this peripheral vascular disease. With blood flow limited by narrowed arteries, the body’s cells don’t get needed oxygen and nutrients. In time, these cells die, and infection can spread.
Other reasons exist for amputation. Trauma from injuries is another major one in the legal world. Aside from trauma, uncontrolled diabetes leads the pack as a cause of leg amputation in the United States.
What are the most common types of malpractice leading to amputation?
There was a time when doctors would amputate the wrong limb by failing to take basic safety measures. These days, that type of malpractice is aberrant. If medical malpractice leads to an amputation, it often involves an infection or condition causing the cells in the limb to decay.
One pattern of malpractice is delay in diagnosing acute compartment syndrome. Acute compartment syndrome is pressure which cuts off blood flow to a limb from the inside. If not treated as an emergency, compartment syndrome can starve tissue and damage it beyond repair. Conditions that can cause compartment syndrome include:
A badly bruised muscle from impact to the limb.
Anabolic steroid use, and
Red flags include when pain is more intense than expected from the injury itself. For example, 10/10 pain for a sprain. Other warning signs are tingling or burning sensations in the skin, or a feeling the muscle is tight and full. If not treated, numbness and paralysis will begin, signaling the muscle is being harmed.
An example of a trial involving this issue is Tolson v St. Agnes Hospital (Maryland 2014), where a jury returned a verdict of $5.2 million dollars. In Tolston, a patient went to the hospital after his leg stuck got caught in an automatic gate. ER doctors diagnosed him with a knee sprain and sent him home. The patient returns to the hospital two days later with no feeling in his leg. The doctors realize the injury tore the ligaments in the knee and his popliteal artery, causing compartment syndrome. The pressure starved the leg, requiring emergency amputation. (This case is provided for informational purposes only.)
Medical malpractice leading to amputation can also occur when a surgeon operates on a limb with too little blood flow to heal after the procedure. Without enough blood flow after surgery, a limb may succumb to infection, leading to the need to amputate. Surgeons can also fail to treat postoperative complications, allowing infection to spread. As such, a careful preoperative workup of a patient’s vascular status is required, and careful postoperative care to prevent complications is vital.
An example of negligent post-operative care is Glasgow v Brassubaman (Pennsylvania 2016). In Glasgow, a 70 year old patient had a bilateral knee replacement. The surgery worked, but during post-op recovery the patient developed pressure sores, which led to a serious infection. That infection killed enough tissue to require amputation of the left leg above the knee. A jury in Philadelphia awarded damages totaling $4.2 million for negligent post-operative care. (This case is provided for informational purposes only.)
Medical malpractice can also occur when a diabetic loses a limb. These cases are complex, because having diabetes can lead to amputation without malpractice occurring. But there are situations where medical malpractice is the cause of amputation for diabetic patients. These cases can include:
When a healthcare provider does not properly control blood sugar level in a diabetic, due to lack of proper followup by a general practice doctor who is treating the patient. Failing to teach essential skills like monitoring sugar levels and adjusting insulin can fall below the standard of care.
When a healthcare provider does not pay attention to a foot injury until tissue is so damaged it becomes gangrenous and must be amputated.
When a healthcare provider fails to diagnose a patient needing an artery graft to keep blood supply to the limbs.
An example of malpractice in treating a diabetic patient is Menapace v Mem. Hosp. of Sweetwater (Wyoming 2018). In Menapace, a patient entered the ER with severe leg pain. The ER diagnosed the patient as a diabetic with peripheral vascular disease and discharged him. Just four days later, the patient is shuttled to a different hospital, where he is diagnosed with acute limb ischemia, sepsis, and renal failure. Due to delay in treating vascular issues, the patient undergoes emergency amputation of both legs. The patient sued the first hospital, and the jury found the hospital and its doctor 90% at fault, awarding $10,165,000 million in damages. (This case is provided for informational purposes only.)
Medical Malpractice Lawyer Can Help.
I have helped clients devastated by the loss of independence that a lost limb represents. Throughout the process, I fight to compensate each victim of malpractice with full justice. Often, this includes:
Consulting with our client’s doctors, therapists, and prosthetists to understand the continuing needs our clients will have throughout their lives due to the malpractice.
Hiring experts in life care planning, vocational rehabilitation, or economists to take the information provided and determine the financial needs of our clients in the future.
If you would like to discuss a amputation malpractice case or referral, call my office at 941-214-7122.