Dutch medical equipment company Philips is facing a flurry of proposed class actions after recently recalling its sleep apnea breathing machines, which the company says may have exposed users to cancer-causing chemicals from defective foam.
The consumers cite a voluntary recall Philips issued in June that affected several million devices meant to treat sleep apnea, a condition that obstructs respiratory airways during sleep.
The most recent suit was filed in Massachusetts federal court by Ellen Osman and husband Daniel Osman, who claim she was diagnosed with lung cancer while using the machine.
Their lawsuit did not explicitly claim that her cancer was caused by the device she used nightly for the past five years, nor is it asking for Philips to pay for her cancer treatment. Her lawsuit asks the court to make the company cover the cost of a new machine for herself, her husband, and others in her class living in Florida. It also requested punitive damages against the Amsterdam-based company.
There are at least 11 other class actions representing consumers in other states, claiming varying levels of injury and demanding reimbursement for the defective devices.
The machines — the continuous positive airway pressure, CPAP, and the Bi-Level Positive Airway Pressure, or Bi-Level PAP — alleviate irregular breathing during sleep by pumping a stream of oxygen into a person’s nose, mouth or both from the device to a mask worn in bed.
Philips insulated these machines with a polyester-based polyurethane foam, known as PE-PUR, meant to reduce noise. But the company issued a recall in June that said the foam is susceptible to degradation when exposed to humidity, improper cleaning, and other conditions. When degrading, the foam emits toxic particulates that can cause “headache, irritation, inflammation, respiratory issues” and possibly cancer.
The Osman complaint says her lung cancer was detected about two years ago and “was in remission until a month ago.” Her suit focuses largely on the financial damages she and her husband experienced by having to purchase new machines.
In the recall, Philips said it would create a repair-and-replace program for the affected devices. But the company hasn’t told consumers when the program would begin.
“In fact, Philips has not provided its customers with a safe or satisfactory solution to the PE-PUR foam defect,” her lawsuit said. “If plaintiffs and other affected patients want to treat their sleep apnea or respiratory failure, they have no choice but to use their dangerous, defective breathing devices or pay for a new device.”
This delay has burnt a hole in consumers’ pockets who’ve taken on the costs of a new machine. Osman has gone without a machine for weeks since the recall and has suffered because of it.