March 2020

SEVERE LEG INJURY RESULTING IN AMPUTATION

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A client that I have known since 1982 contacted me after he was ejected from his wheelchair due to a dangerous condition on a private driveway.  There were large cracks both horizontally and vertically across sections of that driveway that were lifted, creating height variations.

As my client wheeled himself up the driveway, the front wheels of his wheelchair stopped dead in their tracks when they hit a significantly raised portion of the cracked driveway.  The abrupt stop in the forward momentum of his wheelchair’s front wheels caused the rear wheels to pitch up and forward.  The client was launched forward out of his chair and fell violently to the concrete driveway.

As a result of this terrible accident, our client sustained tibia/fibula fractures of his left leg.  After several weeks, skin ulcers developed at the fracture site.  Infection at that point was the greatest concern as it could have been life threatening.

Ultimately, the doctors recommended a left leg amputation at the level of the knee.  The client agreed and the amputation was successfully completed.

The law of premise liability is quite clear.  California’s basic rule of premise liability is codified in Civil Code Section 1714 which states in relevant part:

(a) Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person…(emphasis added)

The specific elements plaintiff need prove are codified in CACI (California Civil Jury Instruction) 1000.  We are instructed that to prevail on a premises liability cause of action, a plaintiff must prove: 1) that defendant owned/leased/occupied/controlled the property, 2) that defendant was negligent in the use or maintenance of the property, 3) that plaintiff was harmed, and 4) that defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s harm.

CACI 1003 defines how a landowner is “negligent in the use or maintenance of the property”.  First, there must be a condition on the property that created an unreasonable risk or harm (aka – a dangerous condition).  The defendant must have known, or through the exercise of reasonable care should have known, about the condition.  And lastly, if the defendant then fails to repair the condition, protect against harm from the condition, or give adequate warning of the condition, he is considered negligent.  CACI 1003.

Lack of actual knowledge of the dangerous condition is no defense if there was an opportunity to inspect and the inspection would have revealed the dangerous condition.  Florez v. Groom Development Co. (1959) 53 Cal.2d 347.  Thus, a landowner has an affirmative, non-delegable duty to exercise care to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition, AND must inspect the premises or take other proper means to ascertain their condition.  Swanberg v. O’Mectin (1984) 157 Cal.App.3d 325, Brown v. George Pepperdine Foundation (1943) 23 Cal.2d 256.  This duty of care includes appropriate warnings for latent or concealed defects of which the property owner knew or should have known in the exercise of reasonable care.  Laird v. T.W. Mather, Inc. (1958) 51 Cal.2d 210.

In this case, we had a significant defect in the driveway which created an unreasonable risk of harm to both wheelchair users and pedestrians alike.  This defect constituted a dangerous condition and an unreasonable risk of harm to my client.

As a result of this incident, my client suffered extreme pain, emotional distress, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of his independence.  Recognizing the severity of the injuries and the exposure of a potential verdict in excess of the policy limit, the property  owner’s insurance carrier tendered or offered the full liability limit of $2,000,000.

JURY VERDICTS

Southern California juries also agree that leg amputations are very serious injuries that require extensive future medical care and heightened medical monitoring and/or care facilities that can provide the specialized care that amputees require.  These injuries also pose significant risks to overall well-being due to lack of mobility and extensive time in bed.

In September 2013, a Los Angeles jury returned a verdict in favor of an 84 year old plaintiff who suffered a leg amputation after being hit by a bus in the amount of $17,120,662.00.  The defendant’s employee, a bus driver, struck plaintiff while crossing the street in a crosswalk.  The only injury was to the right leg, and resulted in a below the knee amputation.  Huayanca v. Southland Transit Inc.

In July 2016, a San Bernardino jury awarded a 53 year old man $46,000,000.00.  Plaintiff suffered catastrophic injuries to his lower left leg when, as a pedestrian, he was struck by a passing vehicle. The vehicle operator was in the scope and course of his employment with Nissan.  Plaintiff required an above the knee amputation.  Faustino Soloria v. Nissan of Fontana

In July 2017, a Riverside jury awarded a 59 year old male $16,948,377.00 as a result of suffering serious leg injuries when he was run over by a fork lift being operated by a PennySaver employee.  The plaintiff required a below the knee amputation.  Meier v. PennySaver USA, LLC.

If interested in more jury verdicts for leg amputations, see also, McCoy v. California Department of Transportation (2016) – $22,588,041.00; Alan Casillas v. Landstar Ranger, Inc. (2014) – $34,500,000.00.

If you or a loved one has suffered an amputation of an arm or a leg as a result of the negligence of another, the impact on one’s life is tremendous and far reaching.  These types of cases require special experts, such as medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, life care planners, biomechanical and biomedical engineers and others to properly assess the best medical course of treatment and what your case is worth.

The Law Offices of Bruce S.  Meth has been handling all kinds of injury and accident cases for over 37 years in San Diego County.  Our primary office is located in Chula Vista but we also have a San Diego office in Mission Valley.

Call (619) 691-8942 for a free consultation with Attorney Bruce Meth or Attorney Jared Leuck.

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