While some people sustain knee injuries while running or playing sports, catastrophic injuries are often the result of another person's careless behavior. You may be entitled to substantial compensation if you lose mobility or experience ongoing pain because of a catastrophic knee injury that was caused by someone else's negligence.
Understanding knee injuries
The knee is a joint where the bones of the lower leg (the tibia and fibula) attach to the bone of the upper leg (the femur). Another bone, the patella, is commonly known as the “knee cap.” Behind the patella are tough tissues (cartilages) that provide a slippery surface to help the bones moves smoothly when you bend or straighten your leg. The cartilages also act like “shock absorbers” to prevent the femur and tibia from colliding when you run or jump.
Leg bones are roped together at the knee by four ligaments, one on each side of the knee and two in the center. Tendons in the knee connect the bones to leg muscles (quadriceps, hamstrings, and the calf muscle).
As the largest joint in the body, knees are easily injured. Common knee injuries include:
- A broken patella is the most common fracture that results from car accidents and falls, although the ends of the tibia and fibula are sometimes fractured, as well.
- A dislocation occurs when the bones that join in the knee are forced out of place, causing a misalignment.
- Ligament injuries. Ligaments are injured when they are stretched or torn. An Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury occurs when an outside force causes the knee to twist. A direct blow to the front of the knee that forces the knee to bend in the wrong direction produces Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) injuries. A blow to the outside or (less often) to the inside of the knee that pushes the knee sideways can produce a collateral ligament injury.
- Meniscal and tendon tears. A tearing of the cartilage known as the meniscus, as well as a torn tendon, can result from a fall or from twisting the knee.
Causes of knee injuries
Knee injuries usually result from either a direct blow to the knee or twisting of the knee. Knees that are weakened by arthritis are particularly susceptible to injury.
Direct blows to the knee occur during car accidents when the driver's or passenger's knee is forced into the dashboard or door. Motorcyclists experience direct blows to the knee after a collision when the rider's knee hits the ground after a fall.
Other kinds of accidents can also cause a direct blow to the knee. A defective ladder, a broken stair tread, a wet spot on the floor of a supermarket, and a hidden hole that a property owner did not adequately illuminate are all examples of negligence that can cause victims to sustain knee injuries when they fall.
Twisting of the knee (particularly a torn ACL) is a common injury that athletes sustain when they change direction rapidly or collide with another player. Other collisions, including car accidents, can produce the same kind of injury. PCL injuries in particular tend to be associated with car accidents. Knees can also twist when a careless person stumbles and pushes the injury victim down a flight of stairs or trips over the victim and lands on the victim's leg.
Effects of catastrophic knee injuries
While most knee injuries heal with rest followed by physical therapy, catastrophic knee injuries may cause lasting pain or permanent disability. Chronic knee pain ranges from a constant dull ache to sharp shooting pain that the victim feels whenever the knee is in motion.
Accident victims who experience a permanent knee injury may have extreme difficulty with the normal activities of life, including:
- Climbing stairs
- Pressing the brake pedal while driving a car
- Rising from a recliner or other soft chair
- Engaging in sexual activity
Even normal walking can be inhibited by a permanent knee injury. Lack of stability makes the injury victim more likely to fall when stepping on a loose rug or an uneven surface. Accident victims who experience a meniscal or ligament tear are at greater risk of developing osteoarthritis years later.
Knee replacement surgery may be required when a knee becomes dysfunctional as the result of an injury. Surgery is followed by a period of physical therapy that many injury victims find to be difficult and extremely painful. Improvement is usually noticeable after four to six weeks but the replaced knee is never the equivalent of a “normal” knee. Victims of catastrophic knee injuries often have to give up activities they loved, including sports and jogging, because they can no longer run or jump.
Compensation for catastrophic knee injuries
When the careless actions of an individual or business cause an accident that leads to a catastrophic knee injury, a personal injury lawyer can help the injury victim obtain compensation. The purpose of catastrophic injury compensation is to make the victim whole. In other words, compensation is meant to restore the victim to the same position that he or she occupied before the injury. That means providing a knee replacement if that is what it takes to restore an accident victim to his or her pre-accident condition (or as close to that as medical science can achieve).
Knee replacement surgery is expensive. So is follow-up care with physical therapists. Personal injury compensation can help victims meet those expenses. It can also help victims buy equipment they need, or pay for modifications to a home, to reduce pain and discomfort or to improve mobility. For example, remodeling a home to permit the injury victim to sleep downstairs, or adding a downstairs bathroom, might help the victim avoid the stress of climbing stairs.
Compensation can replace income lost due to an inability to work that resulted from the knee injury. It can also pay for homemaker services for injury victims who cannot scrub floors or perform other tasks that require kneeling or squatting. Compensation cannot make pain and suffering go away but it can partially offset suffering by improving the quality of the injured person's life.
Injury victims who must endure a serious knee injury caused by negligence owe it to themselves and their families to explore the possibility of receiving fair compensation. Individuals who suffer from a serious knee injury are unlikely to understand the full extent of that injury for several months after the injury occurs. They may need to wait more than a year to determine the extent of their healing. For that reason, it is essential that knee injury victims wait to settle their injury claims until a doctor can assess whether they will be forced to live with a permanent injury. A personal injury lawyer can help victims decide when the time is right to settle.