The terrorist attack at the finish line of the Boston Marathon this week was similar to a lot of IED (improvised explosive device) explosions in the Iraq War in that it produced catastrophic leg injuries requiring emergency amputations. To most of us, that is one of the most horrifying injuries we can imagine.
But in my personal injury trial law practice in Atlanta, I am continually inspired and encouraged by people with amputation injuries who not merely survive but overcome and thrive.
- The Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, Carol Hunstein, lost a leg to cancer by the time she was 23. Already a parent, she went on to college and law school in Florida, moved to Georgia to practice law, was elected a Superior Court judge in a highly competitive environment, and rose to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. She might prefer the elevator instead of the stairs, but otherwise yields little to the fact that she has a prosthetic leg.
- Brad Johnson is a bright young lawyer in Florida who lost both legs in an auto accident on the way back from his Law School Admissions Test. When I met him a few months ago in a Trial Lawyers College program in Key Largo, he had just competed in London on the US Paralympic Sailing Team. He is one of the most cheerful and outgoing people I know. Except when he is wearing shorts with his two high-tech, high-performance prosthetic legs, you could completely miss the fact that he is an amputee.
- We have all seen the young war veterans who lost legs in Iraq or Afghanistan, and who strive to compete in marathons and other sports despite — or perhaps in part because of — their injuries.
- Scott Rigsby is a double amputee marathoner and IronMan triathlete in Atlanta. Sometimes when driving to work I see him running with a bevy of “boot camp” class members trailing behind.
- I was in an airport bar in Miami recently, waiting on a delayed flight home to Atlanta, when a woman seated herself two stools down from me. Both arms were amputated just below the elbows. She proceeded to use her stubs about as skillfully as most people use their hands in manipulating the menu, food, utensils, glass, etc. No complaints, no excuses, just a can-do attitude.
- A while back I represented a little boy who had lost a hand due to a medical error in the neonatal ICU. Of course he had never known life without a missing hand. When we made the “day in the life” video for his case he was six and in the first grade. For the video he demonstrated how he buttoned his jeans, did his chores, ate and rode his bike with one hand. The biggest surprise was the his right hand preference was so deeply ingrained that he ate with a spoon grasped in his right elbow rather than holding it in his good left hand.
In my Atlanta-based personal injury trial practice, I always try to focus as much on what people can do to overcome their injuries as on what they can no longer do. The glass that appears half empty is also half full. I believe that approach is best for the person who has to live with the effect of an injury, but by projecting hope for the future it is also best for motivating a jury to help.
Ken Shigley is immediate past president of the State Bar of Georgia, and double board certified in Civil Trial Advocacy and Civil Pretrial Advocacy by the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification.