Cochlear Implant Lawsuit

The cochlear implant is a life-changing implant that can help people with significant hearing loss understand speech. The device is surgically implanted and may be an option for both young children and adults. But there is controversy surrounding the implants with some people in the deaf community who think they are an insult to their culture.

The implants can also put people at risk for certain complications and injuries. Lawsuits are now pending in federal court against one manufacturer of cochlear implants for damages suffered as a result of the implants.


What is a Cochlear Implant?

Cochlear implants may help people with profound hearing loss improve their ability to hear and understand speech. The cochlear implant device is different from hearing aids; hearing aids make sounds louder but do not significantly improve speech understanding.

A cochlear implant is an implanted electronic device designed to produce hearing sensations to people with severe hearing loss. It works by electronically stimulating nerves inside the inner ear responsible for hearing. The implants consist of two components, an external microphone and speech processor, and an implanted receiver and electrode array system.

The implants receive sound from the outside environment, process it, and send small electric currents near the auditory nerve. These currents activate the nerve which, in turn, sends signals to the brain. The person with the implant experiences these signals as “hearing.”

Cochlear implants are used by both children and adults to improve understanding of speech and spoken language. Deaf children and adults may be able to hear better with a cochlear implant, but there are serious potential risks associated with the devices.


Cochlear Implant Lawsuit

In 2013, a jury awarded an 11-year-old Kentucky girl $7.25 million after her cochlear implant malfunctioned and shocked her so severely she was thrown to the ground vomiting and convulsing. Her family sued the manufacturer of the device, Advanced Bionics after the young girl was shocked two more times and the defective cochlear implants had to be removed and replaced with a competitor’s model.

Advanced Bionics was ordered to pay $1.1 million to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2008 to settle allegations the company failed to notify the federal agency it was using a different supplier for one of its implant’s components, according to a report by USA Today. The FDA said this failure exposed patients to “unnecessary health risks.”

More cochlear implant lawsuits have been filed in federal court since the 2013 verdict. These lawsuits accuse Advanced Bionics of designing a defective product and failing to warn about its risks.


Cochlear Implant Surgery and Possible Complications

Cochlear implant surgery carries certain risks that people considering the procedure should discuss with their healthcare provider. The procedure isn’t right for everyone, and some possible risks and complications can occur.

As with all surgeries, there are risks when going under general anesthesia. Most people tolerate anesthesia well but others, especially those with specific health problems, may be at increased risk for complications.

There are other possible risks with cochlear implant surgery, some of which could be life-changing. These risks include:

  • Injury to facial nerves—The facial nerve passes through the middle ear and makes the muscles of the face move. This nerve lies close to the spot where surgeons place the cochlear implant, and the nerve can be injured during surgery. An injury to the facial nerve can cause temporary or permanent weakening, possibly even full paralysis on the side of the face where the implant is placed.
  • Meningitis—This is a rare, but potentially deadly infection of the lining of the brain. People who have abnormally formed inner ear structures seem to be at greater risk for this serious complication.
  • Perilymph fluid leak—The inner ear contains fluid which can leak through the hole that was created by the implant.
  • Infection of the skin wound.
  • Blood or fluid collection at the surgery site.
  • Attacks of dizziness or vertigo.
  • Tinnitus—A persistent ringing or buzzing sound in the ear.
  • Changes in taste—The nerve that produces taste sensation to the tongue also goes through the middle ear and could be injured during surgery.
  • Numbness around the ear.
  • Reparative granuloma—There is a risk the body might reject the implant. If this happens, localized inflammation called reparative granuloma may occur.

The FDA warns there could be other unforeseen complications that could occur as a result of long-term implantation that cannot now be predicted.
Not everyone is a candidate for a cochlear implant. Before surgery, patients will usually be screened by an ear, nose and throat doctor to see whether they are a good candidate for the device.

Anyone considering cochlear implant surgery should consult their healthcare provider and an audiologist to see if the operation is right for them. It’s important to understand all of the risks and benefits of the procedure before choosing to undergo surgery.


Cochlear Implant Controversy

The cochlear implant has caused controversy in the deaf community, especially when it is used in children. According to media reports, some people feel cochlear implants are an insult to deaf culture, a minority threatened by the majority in the hearing world.

Deaf people feel their way of life is fully functional, and using American Sign Language instead of oral English gives them no disadvantage. It is up to the person with hearing loss or their parents to decide whether or not to get a cochlear implant. It is essential to understand and weigh the risks and benefits of getting the implant before undergoing life-changing surgery.