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How does the law define personal injury in terms of damage to prosthetic limbs?

How does the law define personal injury in terms of damage to prosthetic limbs?

How does the law define personal injury in terms of damage to prosthetic limbs? 150 150 CMZ Law Lufkin/Houston

Modern technology continues to force society to redefine its concepts. This is now becoming evident in the arena of personal injury. Traditionally, “personal injury” has referred to injury to the body, clearly understood to mean human tissue. All other damages were considered to affect “property.” Today, however, as more and more prosthetics are coming into use, the distinction between the biological and the mechanical is becoming less and less clear.


A recent conference at the University of Oxford entitled “Human Enhancement and the Law: Regulating for the Future,” focused on the legal ramifications of technological developments. At this conference it was postulated that “Legal responses to damage [of a prosthetic] that treat it simply as property damage may be inadequate.” Many concerned professionals are working to expand the concepts of personal injury to include damage to prosthetics and other technological devices that are integrated into the human body.

Increasingly, prosthetic devices not only interface with body parts, but are fused to them, as in the case of osseointegration, a process in which a prosthetic is fused permanently to the bone marrow of an amputee. More and more, prostheses are being activated by electrical signals originating in the patient’s own muscles, responsive in ways biological body parts would be. Neurotechnology is now capable of enabling users of prosthetic devices to control their bionic limbs mentally, as well as to receive sensory feedback from them.

In terms of the law, it is clear that changes will have to be made in how personal injury is defined in order to keep up with our changing world. When a prosthetic limb functions in the same way a biological limb does, it is difficult to maintain that an injury to the device is “property damage.” In cases involving vehicular or workplace accident, medical malpractice or assault, it may soon become insufficient to charge those responsible with damaging property. Once damage to prosthetic devices is put into the category of personal injury, responsible parties will be subject to much harsher penalties and victims will be entitled to much greater compensation.

Though it may seem logical to include prosthetic devices under the umbrella of “body parts,” there are several specific issues to be considered where law is concerned, such as:

  • Prostheses are not part of a person at birth
  • Prostheses are constructed of metal and plastic, not human tissue
  • Prostheses do not contain DNA
  • Prostheses are replaceable

Nonetheless, advocates of making changes to the definition of personal injury argue that prostheses become part of the human body, not only physically, technologically, and neurologically, but psychologically. As an adopted child becomes fully the “real” child of its adoptive parents, the prosthetic limb becomes a “real” part of the body. Its injury is nothing if not personal.

If you suffer a serious personal injury, whether to a natural or prosthetic part of your body, it is essential that you contact a skilled personal injury attorney to ensure that you receive the compensation to which you are entitled.