Hip fractures are nasty injuries that can complicate life and even bring on an early death in some patients. We associate such fractures most often with slips and falls in the elderly, but auto accidents are very often the cause of these debilitating injuries since the force and impact of the collision is often combined with extended, locked leg positions as the victim attempts to brace for impact.
Elderly female victims who may suffer from bone density issues like osteoporosis are at greater risk for hip fractures and the complications associated with them. In this article we’ll examine hip fractures and the ways in which they may change your life forever. We’ll discuss how you can prove in court that your hip injury has impacted your quality of life, and outlines ways in which you can improve your chances for justice if you bring a suit against the person at fault for your damages. Finally, we’ll touch on what such a suit might mean in terms of a financial settlement to compensate you for your losses.
Hip fractures are all too common. While we might think that such a fracture involves those big, flat bones that flare out from the pelvis, the ilia, the most common kinds of hip fractures occur at or around the head of the femur, the large thigh bone. The hip is composed of the head of the femur and pelvic acetabulum- the socket into which the femoral head fits. Forceful impact in a fall or collision can fracture either or both bones.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons claims that the impact of a fractured hip, especially in the case of older adults, can include these complications: increased rate of mortality, inability to maintain prior living conditions, an increased need for care and supervision, decreased quality of life, compromised mobility, and an increased risk for infections and blood clots as a result of inactivity.
Here is one possible scenario:
Let’s imagine that a dutiful son is accompanying his aging mother to an appointment with her eye doctor. Mom is in the passenger seat properly belted in.
At a busy intersection, they stop for a red light and, when the green turn arrow permits, they begin a left-hand turn across several lanes of traffic. A distracted driver speeds right through the red light and smashes into the right-front of the son’s vehicle. This causes Mom to slam, knees first, into the dash.
In excruciating pain, the 72 year-old woman is transported to the hospital by ambulance where X-rays reveal that she has suffered a break in the intertrochanteric region of the hip. This is the area further down from the actual joint, in the section of the upper femur that sticks out. The doctors recommend that she should be treated surgically with a hip replacement to improve her chances of recovery.
This mother had been an independent woman who lived with her husband and had a full life. She gardened; she was active in her church, did her own shopping, and kept her own home without help from others. Unfortunately, the recommended surgery and the time necessary for recovery meant that the woman would ideally spend some months in a care facility where her mobility and rehabilitation needs could be better served.
She refused this option and chose, instead, to have temporary nursing care in her own home following the surgery. She had an ailing husband at home and she didn’t want to inconvenience him because of her bad luck.
Independent as she was, it wasn’t long after she got home before she attempted to walk to the bathroom without help. When she fell, she was fortunate not to break any other bones. Her body was bruised, but her spirit was broken. She realized that she was not able to take care of herself, let alone see to the needs of her husband. She agreed to allow her son to place them both in a local care facility.
In the months that followed, the woman slipped into deep depression. She recognized that she was no longer in charge of her own lifestyle, her personal care, or day-to-day decisions. As time passed, her functional abilities declined dramatically. She was increasingly confused, disoriented, and suffered from symptoms of dementia. Within a year of the accident, like 20 to 30 percent of other hip fracture victims, the woman was dead following a bout with an infection.
Eventually, the son sued the driver who hit his car for the wrongful death of his mother.
As often happens in personal injury cases, the job of the plaintiff’s lawyer is to demonstrate how the victim’s life was altered by the accident and how to show that the accident, and not some other reason, was the cause of the injury or death. In this particular situation, the testimony of neighbors and friends can be used to prove that this was an active and vital woman before she was injured. Prior to the accident, she often drove her friends to the grocery store. She hosted weekly bridge parties with her friends, and occasionally volunteered at the care facility reading to patients or playing the piano during sing-alongs. Ironically it was in the same facility that she was destined to spend her last days.
The medical records in this type of case are important. Not only did she get immediate attention, her previous medical records also contained notes regarding her independence and her remarkable lifestyle. These records can be used to show that the woman was fully functional and mentally alert before the accident. The records can also be used to show the downward spiral of her condition from the moment of the accident until the time of her death.
Unfortunately, it is almost a certainty in these cases that lawyers for the defense may seize upon anything they can to blame another cause, such as the fact that the woman had been more than a little overweight at the time of the accident or that the victim refused the assisted living option after the surgery, perhaps putting her at risk. They may make other ridiculous arguments such as that her bone density could have been managed better if she had exercised more regularly and taken prescription medications and dietary supplements to strengthen her bones or that her final illness was the result of pneumonia – not the broken hip their client was allegedly guilty of inflicting.
Fortunately, the law insists that an injured party be taken as he or she is. In other words, any pre-existing conditions that may or may not have made the healing process harder cannot be considered in the jury’s deliberations or the Court’s decision-making process. To the law, the condition in which the defendant finds the plaintiff at the moment of the accident is all that matters; regardless of whether the defense tries to argue or imply otherwise.
Many factors come into play when determining the worth of a life. In this case, the woman was arguably writing the last chapters of her life. She probably wouldn’t have lived for another 30 years. However, she was active and engaged in the business of living, so nobody could truthfully argue that she was on a downhill slide before the accident.
In this case the attorneys for the plaintiffs would work to present this healthy, vital woman as one who meant to carry on with her life no matter what. Their job would be to help portray her as a courageous, determined woman who was not ready to be considered helpless or fragile until the debilitation visited upon her by the auto accident finally destroyed her ‘can do’ attitude.
For example, she had grandchildren and great grandchildren in whose lives she was involved. Those children would suffer from her absence as would her own offspring. Her husband, five years her senior, would now have no hope of ever going home again. His quality of life was forever changed.
How does her decision to stay at home after the accident play into this case? According to her doctors, since medical assistance was provided and her physical rehabilitation was adequately carried out at home, her decision had no detrimental effect upon her health or her healing.
In the end it is usually the attorneys for both sides who negotiate a settlement for damages. Lawyers for the defense must weigh a settlement against the risks of taking the case before a jury who might be sympathetic toward our strong, determined woman.
Insurance adjusters have the job of settling claims for the very least amount of money they can manage. Without a qualified personal injury attorney on your side, the insurance company may continue to insist that your mother’s deteriorating health was because of things over which she had complete control, thereby, failing to make a reasonable settlement offer.
Make sure you ask any attorney you are considering hiring to explain their experience in handling cases like this. Wrongful death cases can be complicated, challenging and expensive. Seek out a law firm that provides a free case evaluation to help you understand what rights you have under the law. Don’t make the decision to avoid litigation based upon the insurance adjuster’s assessment of the situation. Remember, these people don’t have your best interest at heart.
Get all the information you need before you make a decision about your case. Talk to a qualified personal injury lawyer and put winning experience on your team.