Approximately 2 million Americans use wheelchairs for mobility assistance. Some use a wheelchair every day, while others rely on a wheelchair in a healthcare setting, such as at the hospital, in an assisted living facility, or at a nursing home. Approximately half of these users will suffer wheelchair related injuries, which can range in severity from minor cuts and bruises to broken bones, head trauma, and brain injuries.
Wheelchairs are intended to reduce the risk of injuries or falls for people whose mobility is compromised. However, wheelchairs come with their own set of health risks that need to be actively addressed and managed by healthcare providers to prevent injuries resulting from wheelchair use.
Causes of Wheelchair Injuries
Common wheelchair injuries include soft tissue and nerve damage, sprains and strains, abrasions, and contusions, as well as injuries to the shoulder, arm, elbow, forearm, and wrist. More serious injuries like fractures, head injuries, and brain injuries can also result. These injuries can be caused by unlocked brakes, a poorly fit chair, an unassisted or improper transfer, lack of supervision, repositioning issues, or when the chair user is confused.
People in a wheelchair may suffer an injury when wheelchair brakes are left unlocked.
Sliding Off / Poor Fit
The design and fit of a wheelchair are critically important. A wheelchair that does not properly fit the user can result in a low seat that leads to the user sliding off. If the seat is not deep enough, the occupant may lean forward and fall out of the chair. Also consider the size of the wheelchair. Chairs that are too big or too small can lead to serious injuries.
Unassisted or Improper Transfer
Hospital staff and other caregivers must be trained in the proper use of a wheelchair. They must know how to properly use foot pedals, how to fold and transport the chair, and how to transfer the patient to and from the bed, toilet, chair, and into the car. Failure to follow appropriate wheelchair safety protocols can result in serious injuries.
Lack of Supervision
When people in a wheelchair are unsupervised, they may fall out of the chair and find themselves unable to summon the assistance they need.
Whether in a wheelchair or not, when people are uncomfortable they move to reposition themselves. But when people in a wheelchair attempt to reposition themselves because of pain, boredom, or fatigue they risk falling out of the chair and suffering injuries.
When people, especially the elderly, are left in a wheelchair for too long without being repositioned they may develop pressure sores and decubitus ulcers. This is a particular concern with elderly people whose skin is thinner and less resilient.
People suffering from dementia may become confused and try to leave the chair which can result in injury.
Wheelchair Injuries Can Happen Anywhere and to Anyone
Wheelchair injuries are not limited to old people. People of all ages who are in wheelchairs can suffer injuries. In fact, children are involved in as many accidents involving wheelchairs as the elderly.
Wheelchair injuries can occur in the home, on the street, and even in hospitals when healthcare providers fail to observe proper wheelchair safety protocols. Wheelchair injuries are not limited to old people. People of all ages who are in wheelchairs can suffer injuries. In fact, children are involved in as many accidents involving wheelchairs as the elderly. Wheelchair users ages 6 to 17 are more likely to be injured outside of the home where they must contend with stairs, ramps, and curbs.
Wheelchair injuries can be caused by a variety of factors. A wheelchair user could be struck by a motorist. There could be a problem with the chair itself, such as the way it was manufactured or designed. Or perhaps the person using the chair was not properly trained.
A 2011 study found that more than 50% of wheelchair users reported at least one accident during a three year period. Almost 90% of those accidents involved tips and falls.
Tipping is the most common cause of wheelchair-related accidents and accounts for 80% of wheelchair-related injuries among people 65 or older.
Inexperienced wheelchair-users may be unaware of the risk of injuries associated with wheelchair use and may not know how to protect themselves from wheelchair-related injuries. They may attempt to transfer themselves into or out of the chair, in and out of the bathroom, or even stand to retrieve objects that have been placed too high and out of their reach.
What To Do If You Were Injured in a Wheelchair Accident
If you were injured in an accident involving a wheelchair, you may be entitled to compensation. Because there are so many different causes of wheelchair injuries and so many different parties who could be liable, it is critical that you speak with an experienced wheelchair injury lawyer as quickly as possible. A lawyer can help you obtain compensation for your injuries, including money for:
- Past and future medical bills associated with treatment for your injuries
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional trauma
If you were injured in a wheelchair, contact Robenalt Law today. We can advise you on whether you are eligible for compensation, and fight for justice on your behalf. Call us today at 216-233-7573, email [email protected], or complete our online form.
Tom Robenalt started his litigation career at a large firm in Cleveland. For the past 25 years, he has used that experience to help victims and the families of injured people.