Re: [disabilitystudies] (unknown)
- 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
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
And one fire, which started when a wheelchair was
being charged, happened as recently as April, the
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
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 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:
----- Original Message -----
From: "J Deane" <yupper2@...>
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 :)
Do You Yahoo!?
Yahoo! Finance - Get real-time stock quotes