Motorized Wheelchair Suspected in Texas House Fire

A <"">motorized wheelchair may be to blame for a Corpus Christi, Texas house fire that displaced a family of four earlier this month. Fortunately, no one was injured in the blaze.

Surprisingly, motorized wheelchair fires are not unheard of. In fact, in 2000, Invacare Corp., the largest maker of battery-operated wheelchairs in the country, issued a massive recall of the devices because of fires and deaths that occurred due to short-circuiting of the chair’s battery-charger wiring harness. The recall involved 215,000 motorized wheelchairs – all that Invacare had made between 1985 and 2000.

By the time Invacare issued that recall, it had received reports of 30 incidents and 5 deaths linked to the motorized wheelchairs. The motorized wheelchairs lacked a fuse that would cost less than $5 and handle short-circuits, according to an Invacare engineer who was questioned in one wheelchair fire lawsuit.

According to a 2002 investigation by the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Invacare waited years after reports surfaced that some of its wheelchairs were igniting, causing deaths and injuries, before issuing the recall. According to the report, Invacare had tracked complaints about problems associated with the battery-charger wiring harness short circuiting and causing fires as far back as August 1993.

Another motorized wheelchair manufacturer that’s had fire problems is Pride Mobility Products Corp. In 2007, Pride Mobility lawsuit for an undisclosed amount with the family of John Robles Sr., who died in 2004. His Pride Mobility Jet 10 electric wheelchair caught fire, and both he and the device were engulfed in flames. His daughter was unable to pull him to safety.

At the time of the settlement, the Miami Herald reported that Pride Mobility knew of at least 18 other fires associated with its wheelchairs and scooters. None of those involved the same model that killed Robles, and Pride Mobility maintains that battery design was not a factor in those incidents, though it was in the Robles’ case.

According to the Miami Herald, court records in the Robles’ case showed a new manual released by Pride Mobility in 2006 warns of possible fires during battery recharging.

In the Corpus Christi fire, which occurred on July 19, the manufacturer of the motorized wheelchair has not been named. According to a report on KZTV-10, the wheelchair started making popping noises and the fire spread through out the living room. The living room was severely damaged, and the rest of the house sustained smoke damage.

Two adults and two teens (18 and 14) were all able to make it out safely from the flames. The American Red Cross is assisting the family with food, clothes and shelter while their home is repaired.

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