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  • Dennis Lang
    Subject: Recall of ALL Invacare Power Chairs 1985-2000 Please check out this article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer. According to the article, there has been
    Message 1 of 2 , Sep 5 5:38 PM
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      Subject: Recall of ALL Invacare Power Chairs 1985-2000

      Please check out this article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
      According to the article, there has been a poorly publicized
      recall of invacare power chairs made from 1985-2000.


      Fires, deaths are linked to Invacare wheelchairs
      Becky Gaylord
      Plain Dealer Reporter

      The world's largest maker of battery-operated wheelchairs,
      Invacare Corp., settled a lawsuit last month for more than
      $7 million after defective wiring on one of its wheelchairs
      sparked and caught fire, badly burning a 65-year-old quadriplegic
      woman. It was the latest lawsuit the Elyria company has
      faced - including three others that involved deaths - linked to
      the chair's battery-charging system. The flaw is also the source
      of an ongoing recall of the wheelchairs that Invacare quietly
      began in April 2000.

      But the company didn't begin the recall until years after
      reports surfaced that some of its wheelchairs were
      igniting, causing deaths and injuries, and it found itself
      in the midst of lawsuits.

      In September 2000, Invacare expanded the recall,
      increasing from six to 16 the number of models
      covered and nearly doubling the number of wheelchairs
      included, according to the Food and Drug Administration,
      which regulates the devices.

      The recall now covers all powered wheelchairs Invacare
      made from 1985 to 2000 - more than 215,000 of them.
      Although Invacare sent cards to possible customers
      and notified many dealers of the recall, it acknowledged
      that it has not referred to the recall in press releases,
      filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission,
      annual reports or on its Web site.

      "Many people don't know, still, about the risk. It's out there,
      but they should have had it on national TV," said Douglas
      Clark, a partner with Mesch, Clark & Rothschild of Tucson,
      Ariz., the law firm that settled the case last month on
      behalf of Betty Davis, who suffered second- and
      third-degree burns over 25 percent of her body.

      About 39 percent of the wheelchairs made since 1993
      have been corrected, said company spokeswoman
      Susan Elder. Invacare doesn't have similar data for
      wheelchairs made earlier than that, she said.

      She would not comment about legal issues.

      Invacare, whose sales last year topped $1 billion, has
      more than a quarter of the wheelchair market.

      Because someone who needs an electric wheelchair
      is unable to get up and walk away if that machine
      ignites, product defects that can spark fires are
      particularly dangerous for those customers.

      As far back as August 1993, Invacare tracked
      complaints about problems associated with the
      battery-charger wiring harness that could short circuit
      and which had led to smoking, sparking and fires.
      Those complaints described more than 30 incidents
      before the recall began in April 2000 and more than
      30 since then. The company noted five deaths and
      other injuries and damage, according to some of
      the files maintained by the company and turned over
      to Davis' lawyers as part of her case.

      For instance, the complaint files record John Rothermel's
      October 1994 death in Rhode Island: " 'Pop' sound
      when charger plugged in; short caused chair fire;
      apartment burned down."

      In other cases, batteries and wheelchairs reportedly
      melted. And the records show that a father said one
      wheelchair "burnt like a blowtorch" while his son was
      in it.

      And one fire, which started when a wheelchair was
      being charged, happened as recently as April, the
      records show.

      The recall involves replacing components in the flawed
      charging systems. They lacked a fuse that would cost
      less than $5 and handle short-circuits, according to an
      Invacare engineer, who was questioned during trial
      preparations for a lawsuit over the death of Spencer
      Lynch. The Plain Dealer obtained the pretrial documents.
      Lynch, of Oklahoma, died from burns after his Invacare
      Power 9000 wheelchair caught fire in June 1999. The
      type of wheelchair he used sold for about $4,500.
      Invacare engineer Ted Wakefield said "we didn't think
      of it," when asked whether the company had considered
      adding the fuse to stop the short-circuits at the time the
      wiring harnesses were designed.

      Invacare has settled Lynch's case and two others
      involving deaths, in Georgia and Mississippi, brought
      after wheelchair users died in fires linked to the
      defective system.

      Confidentiality agreements struck in several of the
      settlements cover not only the settlement amounts,
      but also expert witnesses, who are restricted from
      speaking about some aspects of the lawsuits.

      One such case, the lawsuit brought by Lynch's parents,
      settled for more than $20 million, according to legal
      sources familiar with it.

      Lawyer Walter Haskins, a partner with Atkinson,
      Haskins, Nellis, Holeman, Phipps, Brittingham &
      Gladd, of Tulsa, Okla., who represented Lynch's
      parents, declined to comment about the case,
      which was sealed.

      "Invacare came down with a truck," picked up all of
      the evidence, including the charred wheelchair,
      Haskins said, "and hauled off."

      Early last month, Invacare settled with Davis, who was
      burned when her wheelchair ignited after she began
      charging the battery. She called the telephone
      company operator, who traced the call and dispatched
      the Fire Department. Firefighters arrived about
      10 minutes after Davis called. A neighbor, summoned
      by the operator, also tried to fight the fire with a garden

      Before settling the case, Invacare admitted in court to
      the defect, according to a transcript. On Aug. 8, Ted
      Borek, Arizona Superior Court judge said, "At this
      point, the defense admits and the plaintiff stipulates
      to the following facts: 'And that is, that the design of the
      charging circuit was defective; that the defect was
      unreasonably dangerous.' " The company also admitted
      that a fuse in the charging harness would reduce the
      potential for fire and that Davis' chair should have been
      designed with such a fuse.

      By then, Invacare had notified many dealers about the
      recall. The company sent letters in April 2000 and
      September 2000 that refer to the likelihood of fires.

      But Elder said there are a number of cases where "we
      were not able to locate the dealer, the information on
      the consumer."

      The company also arranged for post cards about the
      action to be sent to lists of consumers likely to be
      using powered wheelchairs, such as disabled veterans.
      A copy of one of the cards refers to the possibility of an
      electrical short, but not to the risk of fire.

      Inside a section on its Web site labeled product alert,
      Invacare lists several Medical Device Field Corrections.
      One that is dated March 2001 says the company
      "initiated a field correction involving certain Invacare
      power wheelchairs manufactured from 1988 through
      June 2000." The notice says that the battery box harness
      and a charger harness on some of those wheelchairs
      have the "remote possibility to short and cause a fire,"
      but it doesn't say which of the models are affected.

      Consumers who purchased a wheelchair within that
      12-year span are encouraged to contact their "provider
      for details on how to have the new components installed."

      When medical devices regulated by the FDA are
      related to serious harm or death, or could lead to serious
      harm or death if the problem recurred, the manufacturer
      must report the incidents to the agency. That is true even
      if the cause of the mishap hasn't been determined.
      A manufacturer, in deciding whether to make a report,
      judges whether its products were related to the injury
      or death. The reports that manufacturers make go into
      an FDA database that consumers can search.

      According to Invacare's complaint files, no reports were
      made to the FDA for at least 18 of the incidents related
      to battery-wiring harnesses that it tracked, including the
      wheelchair fire that killed John Rothermel in 1994 and
      another fire that killed Arthur Wilbur in Florida in July 1995.
      "I don't think there has been enough communication
      about it," said Mary Beth Gahan, a rehabilitation
      counselor for the Council for Disability Rights, in
      Chicago. The group provides information and
      counseling to consumers with disabilities and their

      Gahan, who uses a powered wheelchair, recently
      traded a $9,500 Invacare Action Storm, which had
      been manufactured during the period covered by the
      recall, for a chair made by another company. She
      switched because she was in the market for a new
      wheelchair; Gahan says she hadn't known about the
      recall until she was asked about it. "If people had
      known about it, maybe those people wouldn't have
      died," she said.

      Invacare did tell regulators about some incidents of
      smoking, sparking and fires with its powered
      wheelchairs, particularly when mishaps occurred in
      the late 1990s and afterward, according to the FDA
      database that tracks reports of the failure or
      malfunction of medical devices.

      One entry made on July 20, 1999, says that the
      manufacturer "received a report alleging a wheelchair
      caught on fire." And, the report adds, the user
      "sustained burns and eventually died." That wheelchair
      was identified as a Power 9000.

      A different report involving a Power 9000 that was
      made on June 30, 1999, said the wheelchair ignited
      while the user was in it, and he "suffered second-
      and third-degree burns over much of his body."

      Other entries record incidents involving the model
      called Action Storm. For example, one wheelchair's
      "charger started smoking, shooting sparks and then
      flamed while the chair was being charged."

      Another Action Storm was involved with an incident
      reported June 12, 2000, where the wheelchair allegedly
      started a fire that burned half of the family's garage.
      The dealer of a different Action Storm reported that a
      "consumer was charging the wheelchair overnight,
      when consumer awoke to a burning smell and flames
      coming out of the bottom of the wheelchair."

      A wheelchair dealer alleged in a report that a powered
      Invacare wheelchair caught fire while it was in the shop
      for the upgrade as part of the recall.

      To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:
      bgaylord@..., 216-999-5029

      ----- Original Message -----
      From: "J Deane" <yupper2@...>
      To: <disabilitystudies@yahoogroups.com>
      Sent: Thursday, September 05, 2002 5:27 PM
      Subject: [disabilitystudies] (unknown)

      Has anyone heard of a recall on invacare wheelchairs? It was on CNN tuesday
      the 3rd but they didn't say what kind of chair or elaborate on it?

      Have a great day and don't forget to SMILE :)

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