The Amputee Coalition reports more than 1.6 million people have suffered some type of limb loss, not including fingers and toes. More than 185,000 amputations are performed annually in the U.S., with the highest prevalence among those 65 and older. Diabetes is a major cause and 41 million Americans have pre-diabetes.
Increasingly, these individuals have regained freedom of motion through prosthetic limbs. Advanced technology has made it so that the integration between humans and machines more intimate than ever.
This has raised questions in terms of whether harm to prosthetic limbs is property damage or a personal injury. The distinction matters in personal injury law because injury is compensated differently than property damage.
The University of Oxford recently explored this issue in its report, “Human Enhancement and the Law: Regulating for the Future.” Although this is a British school, the same general principles are applicable here in the U.S.
Researchers noted that the increasing production and use of human enhancement technologies creates challenges for existing legal frameworks. They noted it raises questions regarding:
Product liability issues
Tort claims for harm as a result of enhancement or failure to enhance
Implications for personal injury law
While the legal system offers strong protections for a person’s body, damage to prosthetic limbs – and other non-biological components (i.e., pacemakers and other devices) are more likely to be handled by the courts as property damage. But there could be a shift as these products are increasingly relied upon for day-to-day living.
Modern day prostheses are more likely to be integrated with the body systems, even being activated by electric pulses from the muscles. In some cases, they are even connected directly to the skeleton. These kinds of “deep integration” could well mean that damage to one’s prosthetic limb means damage to the body.
Because prostheses are recognized as a central part of those who use them, courts may need to consider classifying damage or interference with these devices as damage to the body in cases of assault, battery or other injuries.
Still, this could pose challenges because these parts aren’t technically biologically human and, they can also be replaced. But replacement isn’t always simple.
One case that has raised some of these questions in U.S. courts involved a 63-year-old disabled Vietnam veteran who is quadriplegic. He had no function of either legs and his left arm and only limited use of his right arm. He is unable to use a wheelchair because if he slipped, he might fall into a position that might render him unable to breathe. For this reason, he relied on a powered mobility assistance device, designed specifically for him, that allowed him to move.
On a flight from Miami to San Juan, the 450-pound device was damaged in transit. The airline explained it had been dropped accidentally. It was no longer functional and he had to wait 11 months before receiving a new one. In that time, he was confined to his home and bedridden.
The airline offered him only $1,500 – the cost for property damage. Plaintiff sued for personal injury, seeking compensation for for his lack of mobility that required him to hire people to run errands and carry out basic functions. He asserted damages for pain and suffering, and for the ulcers he suffered due to months of being bedridden.
Eventually, the airline settled for 13 times its original offer before the case went to trial.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Is Harm to a Prosthetic Limb Property Damage or Personal Injury? Jan. 26, 2016, By Luke Robert Mason, Motherboard.vice.com
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