Leveraging the Wheelchair Lemon Law


By Laura Hall

My first power wheelchair was a Quickie P320, that I began using at the age of 16.   It had none of the power seating mechanisms nor any of the bells and whistles of today’s power mobility devices, just a solid frame and two workhorse batteries that saw me through my active high school days and those first long, cold winter jaunts across MSU’s campus as a college freshman and sophomore.  “Greased Lightning”, as I called it, was loud and clunky, but sturdy and dependable and never had a breakdown or a mechanical failure.

By the time I was ready for my second power chair, much had changed in the world of power mobility.  Quickie (now Sunrise Medical) had begun to focus more on manual wheelchairs, and because I was in college, power seating (i.e. tilt and recline) became more necessary for me to provide pressure relief and repositioning.  However, more electronic components, naturally, lead to more potential sites for breakdown.  Stronger competition among manufacturers and lower insurance reimbursement rates have forced them to produce cheaper parts and electronics and “streamline” customer service in a way that prevents them from being as responsive as they once were.  For all of these reasons, the three subsequent powerchairs I’ve had have had more than their share of breakdowns and repairs, including a repair on my current chair that left me without mobility for two months.  I often wonder if manufacturers and durable medical equipment providers truly understand the devastating impact that a major (or even minor) breakdown can have.  For those two months, I felt quite literally trapped in my home, unable to go to work or even to the bathroom on my own, not to mention the pain that came from lack of pressure relief and trying to sit without the proper supports .

Unfortunately, my repair experiences are not uncommon.  At the Michigan Assistive 

cartoon graphic of a wheelchair in flames with tires meltingTechnology Program (MATP) we often receive calls and emails from people in the same situation, desperate to regain their mobility and independence.  We decided to address the issue head on by forming a workgroup to take a closer look at the problems that arise in the repair process.  One of our first tasks was to research whether there was any legislation that offered protections to owners of mobility equipment.  As it turns out, there is!  Public Act 54, otherwise known as the “Michigan Wheelchair Lemon Law”.  The legislation states that any defect or malfunction with a wheelchair must be fixed within a “reasonable number of attempts” for the same problem – further defined in the legislation as four attempts. If a defect or malfunction is not fixed within a reasonable number of attempts, the consumer must notify the manufacturer (within 1 year from the date of purchase in the case of a new wheelchair, and 60 days from the date of purchase in the case of a used wheelchair) of the malfunction or defect and make the wheelchair reasonably available for replacement. The consumer is then entitled to a replacement wheelchair (which must be provided within 30 days of the old wheelchairs return), or a refund of the price paid.

Having a wheelchair lemon law on the books is certainly a positive step, however, the question is, is it usable?  Given the repair process is often long and arduous, is it reasonable that a person could wait through four attempts to repair their wheelchair and still have time to notify the manufacturer within one year of purchase (or 60 days in the case of a used wheelchair)?

Your feedback of these issues is critical to the work of this workgroup.  What is your experience with wheelchair breakdowns and repairs?  Have you ever had a “lemon”?  Have you used or heard of someone taking advantage of the Michigan Wheelchair Lemon Law?  Let us know, and look for future blog article on the topics of wheelchair maintenance and repair as we continue to work on this important issue.



5 thoughts on “Leveraging the Wheelchair Lemon Law

  1. Ernest Waters

    Hi, Laura its nice to here from your story, there are many common problems of people using wheelchairs. Even the quality is good there are factory defects that comes even a short period of used, Wheelchair repair will be your next plan for these.

  2. Randy Malcolm ATP CRTS

    Hello Laura that is a great article and could not be at a better time. It is a critical time in the healthcare field and I personally work in the thick of it everyday as an ATP for Saginaw Medical Service in Saginaw Michigan. With the the healthcare changes and competitive bidding now in place we have been in business so long that we have 50 year plus customers we can no longer service because of the changes to the laws. It is terrible to see this happen and we have wrote or congress people traveled to DC on many occasions without even a response back from the very folks we helped elect. I have recently become a member of your group and would love to sit down and talk with you and your associates on how we can create awareness to several issues related to access are concerned. Things are only going to get worse but with the help of the disabled community itself we can get people listen. Users First Alliance is another great resource we can pull into this mix and help right the ship before people do not have the equipment to access the very laws that the ADA helped create. What good are accessible ramps and buildings if people can’t get their wheelchair fixed to access these items. I look forward the hearing from you soon to discuss this in person. Thanks Randy Malcolm ATP CRTS

  3. Clark Goodrich

    I live in Grand Rapids, MI, and go through Airway Oxygen for my wheelchair maintenance and repair. They are relatively responsive, thankfully–compared to your two month experience, I guess I’d even say they’re EXTREMELY responsive.

    I am probably a rather outspoken customer, too, so that probably has contributed somewhat to my positive experiences with them. If I need routine maintenance I usually drive my wheelchair right into their repair room, often breezing past the receptionists without a word and very rarely calling ahead.

    The times that represent my greatest dissatisfaction with the process as it is, is when I actually have a breakdown, or if the maintenance is less routine and they need me to not be in the chair during the operation. That goes like this: I get no response because it’s after hours or the weekend (actually, I think there’s some kind of emergency response system because this place provides oxygen and other critical durable medical equipment, too, but–and I’m not certain about this because I haven’t had a claim of this sort in a while–even though my power wheelchair and its tilt mechanism are critical to me, to my mobility, independence and pressure-relief needs, I’m pretty sure I need to wait until regular business hours. Then it’s Monday and if I call before 10am, or maybe it’s noon, they can get a truck out to pick it up that day–if not, then a whole lot of absolutely nothing happens for another 24 hours. Request #1: if it does still happen like this, then I suggest the people who do deal with emergencies on the weekend at least be able to put the pick up of my chair on the schedule for Monday morning. So, let’s say they pick it up on Tuesday. It doesn’t go directly to the place they do repairs. Rather, it goes to a holding area for work to be done. On Tuesday they’re working on chairs from Monday I guess. Then, I think, at the end of Tuesday they triage, or prioritize, the work waiting at the other location for Wednesday. This is my squeaky wheel tactic usually pays off. Request #2: increase repair capacity…as I’m sure very few situations are not emergencies for the people waiting for their chairs.

    At this point, it’s a matter of them getting to the chair on Wednesday, determining what the problem is, and hoping they have it in stock. I’ve not had many cases where it went beyond that, thankfully. But even then, it may be Friday before I get it back. When they don’t have it in stock it’s usually another whole week.

    About them thinking they solved the problem and being wrong, that has happened to me so rarely that I can’t actually remember a time. I think the reason it doesn’t is because they have a large assortment of parts on hand. If it’s not immediately apparent which thing is causing the problem, they swap out one major component at a time, until the chair works–then they know to focus on that component.

    Hope this helps.

    the Weasel
    Grand Rapids ADAPT

  4. Kathryn Wyeth

    Found it! http://medicalxpress.com/news/2013-03-human-brain-prosthetic-devices-body.html

  5. Kathryn Wyeth

    Thanks for the great post Laura. I’ve read a study that people who use wheelchairs for a long time then don’t have it for a while experience grief like people do who lose a limb. I look forward to hearing from others on this issue!


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