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Loss of a Lower Limb

The recent accident at Alton Towers has shocked the nation and through the media we are learning of the horrifying nature of the victims’ injuries. A 17 year old girl has reportedly undergone an above-knee amputation following devastating leg injuries. It is understood that other victims might yet meet the same fate. Merlin, the company who own Alton Towers have quickly confirmed that all victims will be compensated and the lawyer who has been speaking on behalf of 17 year old Vicky Balch has advised that her compensation is likely to exceed £1m.

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You might be wondering how Ms Balch’s lawyer could know that her client’s case may be worth in excess of £1m. It is, after all, very early days. Amputee cases are complex and require specialist knowledge but a lawyer experienced in these cases will have an awareness of the financial losses that are likely to arise. Contrary to popular belief, valuing personal injury claims requires skill, experience and mathematical calculation in order to determine the claimant’s likely loss over their life time. claimants usually get only one bite of the cherry and it is, therefore it is really important to obtain the right expert evidence to guide this.

Financial losses?

So what kind of financial losses might you expect an amputee to incur over their lifetime? Firstly, there is loss of earnings and pension which can be over a full working life and be a large figure. The cost of prosthetics is an important head of loss. A prosthetics expert will be required to consider the claimant’s individual needs. On a private basis, there are wide ranging and multi-functioning prosthetics available that allow amputees to continue with many of their pre-accident activities. These are often over and above what the NHS can offer. These are expensive and will need to be replaced many times over the claimant’s life time. Also what happens if the prosthesis needs a repair or maintenance? A spare is therefore needed.

There is also the immediate and long term cost of rehabilitation including physiotherapy and hydrotherapy. In the short term a case manager may be helpful in co-ordinating the claimant’s rehabilitation, which can be a huge burden if left to family members.

Accommodation

Accommodation experts are crucial in these cases. Most lower limb amputees benefit from single storey accommodation. Properties often require adapting to make safe for prosthetic and wheelchair users. The expert can advise on the type of property required and the cost. An occupational therapist will also be essential in advising on any aids & equipment that the claimant can use in order to maximise their independence in every-day tasks such as bathing and preparing meals.

A lower limb amputee may need substantial assistance with day to day activities and household maintenance over a lifetime. It is also essential to think of the needs the claimant might have in their old age. Whilst they will probably be able to mobilise using a prosthesis in their younger years, they do require a lot of energy and a lot of amputees revert to use of a wheelchair later in life. As they get older, the likelihood is that the need for care and support will increase. In some cases 24 hour care will be required.

“Special damages”

In addition to all of these financial losses, known as “special damages”, the claimant will ultimately be awarded something for their pain and suffering and impairment of ability to do day to day tasks known as “general damages”. These are calculated by reference to judicial guidelines and also by considering court awards in similar cases. Consideration is given to severity and extent of the injury, degree and duration of loss of function and pain, mental distress, inability to resume sport or hobbies and scarring or disfigurement.  

The loss above the knee of a limb aspect alone attracts an award in the range of £85,000 to £111,000 according to the guidelines. There is also likely to be scarring and other injuries to consider.
In cases where liability is admitted, as in the Alton Towers case, it is crucial to obtain an early interim payment in order that rehabilitation can be put in place as soon as possible and thus maximising the claimant’s recovery.

Family members

One final point to note is that relatives of those injured may have became aware of the accident and injury to their loved one through television reports from the scene. This must have been extremely traumatic and may well result in psychological damage. Relatives in this situation are legally called secondary victims. The leading case in this area arose out of the Hillsborough disaster in which many of the victims’ family members witnessed the horrific event unfold on television knowing that their relatives were on the effected terrace. The Court held the secondary victim must perceive the initial accident, or its immediate aftermath, with their own senses and viewing on television is not sufficient. Each case however must be looked at on its own facts.