It seems like a no-brainer: suppose you’re involved in a horrific car wreck that is not your fault and the accident leaves your foot crushed. Would this be considered grounds for a personal injury lawsuit? Absolutely.
What if the injured body part isn’t technically yours? What if that crushed foot was a prosthetic limb? Then, unfortunately, the law gets a little hazier and whether or not it qualifies as a personal injury may be up to interpretation. Here are the facts about personal injury suits involving prosthetic limbs (http://motherboard.vice.com/read/is-harm-to-a-prosthetic-limb-property-damage-or-personal-injury).
In recent years, the legal system viewed a prosthetic, including bionic limbs, as being a separate entity from the person who is using it. In this way, the limb was considered to be your property, not a part of your actual person. If the limb were damaged in an accident, it would be considered the same as if your car was damaged or anything else you own. However, there have been incredible breakthroughs in the science behind prosthetics.
The line between man and machine is becoming distinctly blurred. Because of this, many are calling on the laws to be changed and updated to become more in-step with modern medicine. At a recent conference held at the University of Oxford, legal experts met to discuss just such a change and how these scientific advancements may change the landscape of personal injury law.
According to three of the presenters at this conference, Cressida Auckland, Imogen Goold, and Hannah Maslen, the legal system “provides strong protections for a person’s bodily integrity.” However, this does not extend to prosthetics as the court simply looks at them as property. They’re working with other groups to explore possible legal loopholes to get the definition of “personal injury” expanded to include prosthetics.
This is largely incumbent on the new technology making prosthetics more an integral part of the human body. For instance, many of the new models of bionic limbs are triggered by signals from the muscles so that they function as an actual part of the human body instead of a cosmetic appliance like they might have been fifty years ago.
In fact, some of the more experimental, cutting-edge models are actually fused to the bone marrow so they’re a permanent attachment to the patient’s body. Yet another example of the major advances in prosthetics includes recent models created by Johns Hopkins’ University that can send feedback to the person’s brain regarding touch or other stimuli. Likewise, the patients with these new limbs can move and control them with their thoughts through a link called neurotechnology. Although this may sound like the realm of science fiction, it is very much becoming a reality for the thousands of people who have lost limbs.
Because of this, legal experts are calling for these advanced examples to be considered actual limbs and, as such, damage to them would be considered actual personal injury. They go on to state that the technology is only poised to become more and more advanced. It is unlikely that prosthetics will go back to the day of simple wooden or plastic arms and legs that have no real function. Instead, they may become fully integrated permanent limbs that are controlled totally by the mind with the ability to feel and send back messages such as hot, cold, and pain to the brain.
The legal implications don’t simply end with personal injury cases. It can be argued that damage to a prosthetic can cause a level of harm as if an actual, flesh and blood, limb was damaged. As such, damage to prosthetics may soon be classified as assault and battery cases. Furthermore, the damage may extend beyond the physical implications. Many people develop attachments to their prosthetics, especially since they are replacements for the limbs they were born with. Some amputees can argue they become so used to the artificial limbs that they are just like a part of their natural body. As such, the loss of these limbs can cause psychological damage and mental suffering because the presence of the limb gives them a sense of completion and wholeness. Without that limb, they feel weaker and less “normal.”
The bottom line on prosthetics is that, for the time being, they’re still being treated as property that cannot be included in personal injury cases. However, it is becoming more and more readily apparent these laws need to be changed to better reflect the scientific realities that are being created everyday with new technology. As the science advances, so must the law.