This week, we received notification from NHTSA's Office of Defects and Investigation concerning Ricon wheelchair lifts used in Diamond Coaches. These vehicles are small buses used to transport senior citizens and others who are unable to drive. The defect notices involve nonconformities in the restraint belt and lift software which could result in possible injury to wheelchair occupants. The manufacturer offers a warning label and a user DVD while Ricon attempts to fix the problem. You can find out more about these recall and investigation notices by checking out NHTSA Campaign ID Number 10V106 and 10V109.If, in fact, the occupant in the wheelchair is not secure when lifted into the vehicle, clearly more than a warning is needed.
The market for medical equipment, vehicle modifications and assistive devices, is big business. Health care patients are consumers of medical equipment. The California Lemon Law applies to such goods when purchased for consumers and small businesses. Other California consumer protection laws, such as the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, even offer additional penalties if false advertising or other sales practices target senior citizens or disabled persons who suffer substantial physical, emotional or economic damage thereby. Other statutes protecting against financial abuse of the infirm or elderly can also apply.
The California Lemon Law (the “Song Beverly Consumer Warranty Act”) even has a separate section devoted to wheelchairs, requiring that they “shall be accompanied by the manufacturer’s or lessor’s written express warranty that the wheelchair is free of defects.” In addition, the Act states that every sale of “assistive devices” in California carries an implied warranty that the “device is specifically fit for the particular needs of the buyer.” The definition of “assistive device” excludes eyeglasses, but is otherwise extremely broad.
At the same time, not every manufacturer is liable for vehicle modifications that it does not authorize. So-called “after market” adaptations, if unauthorized, may void the original manufacturer’s new vehicle warranty. The dealer or installer may be the party who is liable if the aftermarket alteration fails.
Seniors, health care patients and disabled persons are especially vulnerable to fraud and abuse. California lawmakers have enacted strong laws to protect this population from deceptive practices and defective products.