Some people have no trouble healing from even shattered bones. The bone fragments, with some help from a surgeon who pins the pieces together, knit together nicely and, with some physical therapy the ankle is almost as good as new. Other people, particularly those who suffer from diabetes mellitus are not so lucky.
What is a fairly straightforward injury in others can ultimately result in infection and even amputation in diabetics. This is the result of many factors that plague diabetics. Their bones don’t heal properly, infection is always a risk because of their poor circulation in their extremities, and other complications loom large in the diabetic foot.
But – diabetes is a condition that was present before the injury. Can a negligent driver be held accountable for such complications? He didn’t know you had diabetes – how can he be responsible for the costs of your medical treatment that are a direct result of your preexisting condition? In this article we will explain how you can prove that your injury was caused because of someone else’s negligence and how much such an injury might be worth.
The law in the State of Georgia states unequivocally that the injuries caused to another are the responsibility of the negligent other even when the victim was compromised to begin with. We call this the ‘eggshell rule.’ It essentially means, as a matter of law, we view the victim as he was at the time of the accident and treat his damages accordingly. The tortfeasor, or the negligent party, is not excused for his negligence just because the victim is especially fragile. Here is a good example.
You are a very active 67-year-old woman who happens to suffer from diabetes. You are a widow whose idea of fun is roller-blading with your grandchildren or snorkeling with your son. You plan to try wind-surfing on your next vacation on the Gulf Coast.
Your primary mode of everyday transportation is a three-wheeled, street legal scooter. You take it everywhere including, in this case, to a nearby convenience store to buy a loaf of bread.
While you are in the store, you notice an obviously drunk man who enters the store and staggers to the beer cooler. He plans to buy another six-pack. You think he’s probably had enough, but go about your business, paying for the bread and leaving.
As you put your bread in your carrying basket, the man exits the store cursing. (Sans six pack.) You watch as he gets into his vehicle, slams the door and, in what seems like the blink of an eye, you see the car careening toward you in reverse.
Before you can mount your scooter and get out of his way, the car crashes into you and knocks you down, the scooter atop you. Your left leg is pinned between the pavement and the floorboard of the scooter which is held down by the car. The bones in your ankle are crushed.
When the police and ambulance arrive the man is arrested and you are transported to the hospital. There, after myriad tests including X-rays, CT scans, and an ultrasound, the orthopedist advises you that you must undergo surgery on your crushed ankle to put the bones and fragments back together using pins and screws. The doctors call this an open reduction and internal fixation. (ORIF) Such procedures are done every day, but in the case of a diabetic, they are done with imperfect results.
In one study, medical professionals evaluated the results of fourteen open ankle fractures in patients with diabetes. Of these fourteen fractures, 9 had wound complications, five of which resulted in amputation. Only 3 of the fourteen fractures healed without consequence. Studies such as these, and there are many, demonstrate that there is an increased rate of complications with ankle fractures in patients with diabetes. It’s a very perilous surgery for you, but there are no other options for your recovery.
As long as we are imagining here, let’s imagine that you eventually lose your foot and leg up to the knee because of the complications of this fractured ankle. Is the drunk driver at fault for your injury? Is he responsible for your amputation?
The answer is, yes. Even though you were less than perfect to begin with the law says the tortfeasor – the driver and/or his insurance company – must take you as they found you at the time of the accident – impaired by your insulin dependent diabetes mellitus.
How can you prove to a Georgia jury that your injury, and the terrible consequences, are the drunk driver’s fault?
As in every personal injury case, documentation is everything. The fact that the police and the ambulance were called is a good beginning to your personal injury case. First responders document everything for the record which will be essentially important to your case. In their records, they will have the names of witnesses including the clerk who refused to sell beer to this obviously intoxicated man. In this situation, there will be also an arrest record and a criminal court finding that will work in your behalf. Your lawyer will obtain these records for your case.
All of your medical records from before and after the accident will help your personal injury lawyer demonstrate to the court and the jury how your medical condition makes healing from such an injury difficult or impossible.
Since the medical technicalities in this case are difficult to understand for the average person, you will probably require the help of expert witnesses. Such experts will offer testimony to explain the way diabetes compromises the body’s healing process. They will help the jury understand how and why the healing of your fractures was complicated by your disease. This will establish that your suffering was prolonged and extremely painful even before the difficult decision to amputate was made.
When the now infected and hopelessly compromised leg threatens to progress to the rest of your body, the doctors advise you that the amputation of your foot is necessary if you are to survive. Now you must make a decision that will make your previous activities and lifestyle impossible. Of course, you see no other option and consent to the amputation.
Your lawyer will bring in evidence that proves that your life and your ability to function as before are forever changed. You will have months of healing followed by months of rehabilitation and physical therapy. Then you may or may not be able to go to the grocery store without help.
The mental impact of such new limitations can be devastating. When people are suddenly robbed of their ability to feel independent and fully functional, it can result in deep depression, even suicidal thoughts and actions. Of course, your family will also be impacted. These tragedies don’t happen to just one member of the family. Everybody’s life changes because you are now unable to do the things you did before.
You may now have the added expense of in-home health care for the short or long term since there is nobody at home to help you with day-to-day activities. You may be forced to move into an assisted living facility or even a nursing home.
If you are forced to sell your house in a tough real estate market, even that loss can be part of the damages caused by this one man’s horrible judgment.
You can no longer snorkel with your son and daughter-in-law. You won’t be roller blading with them any time soon, either. You may never do something as mundane as Christmas shopping without help again.
All of these consequences of the drunk driver’s criminal activity of driving while intoxicated will be carefully assessed. There are ways to quantify the “worth” or “value” of a foot and ankle. (Workers compensation insurance companies even have charts assigning value to everything from your big toe to your funny bone.) Your age will be considered, as will the fact that you are not missing work or feeling the full brunt of the medical costs. But those medical costs will be part of what your lawyers will ultimately seek by way of compensating you for past and future costs. Things like prosthetic devices which must be monitored and changed from time to time will also be part of the damages you seek.
The quality of your life has value. The fact that you were very active will be an important part of the assessment of your damages. That your recreational opportunities are so severely impacted will matter to the jury as will the fact that sharing quality time with your family may be less satisfying in the future.
This case may begin to feel like a “slam dunk.” Personal injury lawyers will tell you, though, there is no such thing in law.
Even though it is obvious that the drunk driver caused the initial injury, his lawyers will attempt to discredit your witnesses, argue that you were somehow at fault for not getting out of the way, or that you failed to properly care for your injury, resulting in the devastating infection. You will need the help of a personal injury specialist.
You may be tempted to take your case to a lawyer you know – maybe he is a wiz at bankruptcy or estate law and has helped you before. The fact that he is not a personal injury lawyer, who dedicates his every day to challenging the outrageous attempts to avoid paying that insurance company lawyers are famous for, makes your lawyer friend a bad choice. You need somebody who is immersed in this field of law every day of the year.
At The Millar Law Firm we handle Georgia personal injury cases exclusively. Because we dedicate our practice to helping innocent victims recover what they’ve lost, we can anticipate all the pitfalls in cases like this. We have the experience to get the job done.
Call us today for a free case evaluation. We’ll look at the facts in your case and help you determine your next move. If you’re going to court, you deserve the best qualified attorney you can find. You’ll find that attorney at the The Millar Law Firm.