Lawsuit Challenges Oregon Department of Corrections’ Policy of Charging People With Disabilities for Their Prostheses and Other Durable Medical Equipment

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Person using a wheelchair inside of prison
Image: Person using a wheelchair inside of prison (via Wikimedia)

 

April 21, 2021– Salem, OR – Yesterday Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national non-profit legal center, and Lynn S. Walsh, filed a class action lawsuit against the State of Oregon and the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) on behalf of current and former people with disabilities who are incarcerated and who have been charged for the costs of the prostheses and other equipment they need to accommodate their disabilities. The case challenges ODOC’s discriminatory administrative rules and practices requiring people with disabilities to pay for durable medical equipment and/or healthcare appliances that they need in order to access the programs and services of the prisons, including orthoses, prostheses, hearing aids and batteries, dentures, and artificial limbs and eyes. The lawsuit also challenges ODOC’s policy and practice of denying some accommodations outright if the person with a disabilities lacks sufficient funds to pay for the device. Click here to read the complaint.

Plaintiff Donald Terrill has a lower leg amputation and received a prosthesis from ODOC in May 2013. ODOC garnishes Mr. Terrill’s trust account each month to pay for the prosthesis, and so far Mr. Terrill has paid $10,675 towards the cost but still, according to ODOC policy, owes ODOC $14,415 more. Mr. Terrill makes approximately $45 per month at his job, of which $19.125 goes to reimburse ODOC for the cost of his prosthetic. Many people with disabilities incarcerated at ODOC have been paying monthly charges, often  for years, for durable medical equipment that should have been provided at the expense of ODOC.

These charges are only for people with disabilities who require these devices long-term—ODOC does not charge such costs to non-disabled people who require limited-duration aids, such as canes, crutches, or braces. The imposition of these costs represents unlawful surcharges on people with disabilities and fails to reasonably accommodate them in ODOC facilities and programs in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

“Because I am being charged for my prosthesis, I cannot buy much beyond toothpaste and deodorant, or save up for shoes,” said plaintiff Donald Terrill. “I must choose between calling my family and buying essentials.”

“Oregon’s Department of Corrections cannot ignore the civil rights of people with disabilities,” said Torie Atkinson, Staff Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates. “Charging people with disabilities for their prostheses and other medical devices is unlawful and we hope the Court will respond swiftly to refund our client and all those who have been paying these fees.”

The plaintiff and class members seek a declaration that this practice is illegal and an injunction to cease the practice of charging people with disabilities for any durable medical equipment and/or healthcare appliance, as well as reimbursement for amounts wrongfully taken from their inmate trust accounts as garnishment for their disability-related accommodations.

About Disability Rights Advocates

Founded in 1993, Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) is the leading national nonprofit disability rights legal center. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA represents people with the full spectrum of disabilities in complex, system-change, class action cases. DRA is proud to have upheld the promise of the ADA since our inception. Thanks to DRA’s precedent-setting work, people with disabilities across the country have dramatically improved access to health care, employment, transportation, education, disaster preparedness planning, voting and housing. For more information, visit www.dralegal.org.

Contacts

Chris Maccarone: cmaccarone@dralegal.org 510-665-8644

Torie Atkinson: tatkinson@dralegal.org (332) 217-0167