Lawsuit against a prosthetic part manufacturer [rumor]

Lawsuits against a prosthetic part manufacturer are interesting in part because the market is tiny and because the products normally tend to be overpriced and not of particularly good quality. So why sue.

Word of mouth has it, that a relatively large prosthetic part manufacturer will have to face a lawsuit. An amputee who obviously was met with legally unacceptable issues now appears to strike back. It's a rumor though, so we'll keep the ball low.

But that is somewhat unheard of. Why?

The collective of amputees so far and up to now consists of two rather stereotypical groups.

The big group: Most amputees accepted the fact that big prosthetic part manufacturers and prosthetic technicians were intimidating, and manufacturers and technicians alike would be accepted as the only viable path to limb replacement. This means that 49 out of 50 amputees gladly accepted the fact that the prosthetic parts cost 700 bucks when in fact they contained a 10 buck worth unit that was really worth even less. So far, that was the going rate of acceptance.

And the small group: In return, that 1 out of 50 amputees that really do not accept this and who actually confront the technicians and manufacturers with the insufficient aspects of their produce are being kept silent - the technicians do whatever they can, and manufacturers silently try to cover up the damage by being wise and by being polite, by taking back the goods that are already shipped in a built-to-fail state and by carefully making space as an angry well informed highly motivated amputee is definitely not a person you want to compete with in the field of prosthetic parts. As it turns out, I am one of these 1/50 people and one ends up building one's own parts and the world is indeed a better one after that. I always felt that if I sued one of these companies (in Switzerland), I would not achieve more than getting a freebie crap part of the same tool shed the previous garbage came from - but a lawsuit would not solve my real technical problem. Instead, we built cable setups, harnesses, wrists, and all kinds of other stuff and that really improved my situation as well as the situation for others. Also, focusing on solid and good construction has a really positive mental feel to it, a lot different from frustration over failure of parts.

But now there seems to be a third group - the informed customer that does not accept the (in my experience) sometimes really unacceptable antics of typical prosthetic company customer "care" representatives and/or the always exaggerated prices of defective or fast failure produce any more. In the USA, lawsuits probably can be different and one may be able to sue for a lot more than just 250$ in compensation which is a realistic sum for compensation in a Swiss civil lawsuit for a prosthetic part - probably as much as parking my car in downtown Zuerich for five full days would cost me. Here, lawsuits for prosthetic part issues are mostly a waste of time. But also, I do credit the companies with some insight (see above) that allow me to move on - a great idea if all you do is selling overpriced paper clips really. Even though I do wonder how ever Otto Bock managed to smuggle these diameter varying bolts past that guy who must be responsible for the quality control and how they managed to get these fast to wiggle hooks CE-approved. Why does Switzerland not want to join the EU, after all, the Europeans do seem to have great CT-approval mechanisms in place. These are unanswered questions, to me.

Another really good question is why insurances don't sue prosthetic part manufacturers or prosthetic technicians. The answer probably is that all they do is increase member fees and chill. I must assume that neither prosthetic part manufacturers, nor prosthetic technicians and certainly not insurance representatives care too much about amputees. Not really. Also we can be intimidated, never forget that that is what we are there for. But they don't look down onto each other, I figured that one out. So I did find that while my word sometimes does not weigh much, playing one of these against the other may work wonders. Telling a technician that insurance will only pay once the socket fulfills some minimal requirements (and telling insurance beforehand that the technician really built a useless socket, along with photos that prove that) may suddenly and painfully increase those people's awareness to get to a somewhat productive level. More than once, playing the groups that collectively ignored my needs against each other ended up nicely, with good tangible results.

But I'd hope you'd order a Hosmer hook or V2P Prehensor before going down the path of first wasting money and then time. "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who'll decide where to go" (Dr. Seuss).

Now though, it seems that this new category of amputees steps out into the open - the ones that are armed with pride and not so much the will to tinker on their own or negotiate, and therefore, they could be really dangerous. And now they may take it to court. Back in the days, people of African descent fought for their legal rights in court. Now, some disabled people pull up and do the same.

All of a sudden, developing my own parts and sharing news about that seems a really shabby accomplishment compared to the glorious appeal that may accompany a hopefully victorious lawsuit?

But that rumor really is great news! Good luck!

But to all the others - really be careful about what components you buy and where you get your stuff built.

History of prostheses related lawsuits

At this moment, it can be interesting to list a few past lawsuits related to prostheses and prosthetic manufacturers.

    • [2007] Ohio Willow Wood apparently sued Fillauer Companies Inc. (Chattanooga, TN), Alps South Corporation (St. Petersburg, Florida) and DAW Industries Inc. (San Diego, CA). All lawsuits apparently involved liners and sleeves. What was at stake was the intellectual property. [oandp.com] [priorsmart.com] While it appears that Alps South Corporation won that patent case, they followed up with some antitrust claims. [law360] [law360]
    • [11/2008] The South African health insurance "Discovery Health" advertised with a C-leg and a commercial starting with "of the two million members we serve...". According to South Africa O&P practicioners and amputees, "Discovery Health" exploited amputees that needed prosthetic limbs while not paying them C-legs. [oandp.com] [asasa.org.za] (pdf)
    • [4/2009] Otto Bock Healthcare was sued for pregnancy discrimination and retaliation and, along with Robert Half International Inc., had to pay $64500. [eeoc.gov, "OTTO BOCK HEALTHCARE AND ROBERT HALF TO PAY $64,500 FOR PREGNANCY DISCRIMINATION AND RETALIATION", pdf]. Alright, it's more Otto Bock related than prostheses related, but, man.
    • [7/2010] Daw Industries Inc. apparently accused Otto Bock Healthcare USA and Hanger Orthopedic Group Inc. of conspiration to monopolizing the market for microprocessor controlled knees. With a confidential deal, they settled out of court. [Daw, Otto Bock Settle Prosthetic Knee Antitrust Spat, pdf]
    • [1/2011] Otto Bock appears to have been charged with false marking in relation to their Greifer, a myoelectric component in a qui tam action. This apparently was settled out of court in April 2011. [Tex Pat vs Otto Bock Health Care, pdf]
    • [2014] Italian Lower Limb Prosthesis Company Wins Lawsuit Against German Giant Ottobock (pdf)

Conclusion

  • Lawsuits against prosthetic part manufacturers appear to be a reality in a field that is so small no one can sell products at a reasonable price. This begs a few questions, one of which is the question why the state doesn't interfere. "Stop that nonsense". "Make your stuff better". "Lower the price". "Apologize to your customers". An obligatory Annual Apology letter of large prosthetic part manufacturers to all of their end customers could be a first tiny step in a sorely right direction.
  • Exaggerating advertising (i.e., "Otto Bock, Quality for Life" when in fact their stuff may run out or keel over even before the sun sets), patent abuse, patent infringement charge abuse - all seem to be fairly frequent in prosthetics. This begs the question who let these people get to the point where they even start with such. Obviously, far more detailed and more rigid state control is in order for these business activities.
  • Products are not just hideously expensive. They are also made with moderate or low quality. This begs the question why insurance companies or patient / disability support groups do not lobby and interfere.
  • These people really are wasting money, and they even do that when they say there isn't any. If they'd be developing new components for body powered arms, bet you, we'd probably know that by now. But they are not, and they have not been doing so either. So really, any officially purchased prosthetic part is in part and to a degree supporting the wrong type of industry, supporting the wrong guys to stand there and make claims for and on behalf of amputees, and definitely cement the image of clueless marketing rather than inventive new developments. Really it tells me just how clueless they probably are. And that is maybe a fact not to proudly advertise. Darn! Now we found out anyway! Darn!!

Ultimate conclusion

  • Build and repair as much as you can yourself. Then make sure you control what parts and what quality you are getting.
  • Order directly off a manufacturer. Don't finance highway robbery.

(updated)

Cite this article:
Wolf Schweitzer: Technical Below Elbow Amputee Issues - Lawsuit against a prosthetic part manufacturer [rumor]; published April 22, 2011, 23:21; URL: https://www.swisswuff.ch/tech/?p=402.

BibTeX: @MISC{schweitzer_wolf_1581771459, author = {Wolf Schweitzer}, title = {{Technical Below Elbow Amputee Issues - Lawsuit against a prosthetic part manufacturer [rumor]}}, month = {April},year = {2011}, url = {https://www.swisswuff.ch/tech/?p=402}}