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Polar Care Cold Therapy Lawsuit Results in $12M Verdict

A California woman has been awarded more than $12 million in compensatory and punitive damages after in a lawsuit filed over problems suffered during treatment with a Polar Care 500 cold therapy machine.

The complaint was filed by Whitney Engler against Breg International and against Dr. David Chao for product liability and medical malpractice, alleging that the Polar Care 500 therapy unit manufactured by Breg and prescribed by Dr. Chao caused her to suffer damage to the tissue in her legs.

In late July, a San Diego Jury awarded Engler $5 million in compensatory damages and a week later another $7.5 million in punitive damages was added, resulting in a total award of more than $12 million in damages.

The Polar Care 500 is a cold therapy unit designed to treat pain and swelling by exposing the injured areas to hours of heat and cold. The machines are supposed to work in a number of ways.

Cold therapy restricts bloodflow to the injured area, slows down nerve impulses that tell you that you are in pain and also works as distraction pain, pulling the mind’s focus away from the injury to the sensation of cold. However, there have been a number of reports involving problems with cold therapy, where the machines have caused frostbite, skin damage, nerve damage, and a risk of limb amputation.

According to allegations raised in Engler’s the cold therapy lawsuit, the Polar Care 500 caused the skin on her legs to die. As a result of the injuries allegedly caused by the cold therapy, the former high school track star has required multiple reconstructive surgeries.

The lawsuit is one of a growing number of complaints filed over cold therapy machines, also known as cryotherapy. In addition to Polar Care lawsuits against Breg, a number of similar products have faced claims, including DeRoyal Cold Therapy Units, DonJoy Iceman, EBIce, Aircase Cryo Cuff, Game Ready and others.

This is believed to be one of the first verdict in the United States for damages from cold therapy or ice therapy machine.

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26 comments

  1. Tim Reply

    I have had surgery on my left shoulder. i was sent home with the polar 500 ice machine. I have been complaning about burning sensatations, tingling, and numbness in this shoulder n arm ever sinse. the doctors have no clue. any thoughts?

  2. kevin Reply

    I had surgery on right knee and was prescribed the polar 500, been having knee problems complained to dr. and he does not know where the problems are coming from. i have burning and tingling and numbness inside of my knee also.

  3. Dee Reply

    I’d say that the chances of you both having RSD or CRPS are very high. These conditions are a direct result of using the cold therapy devices after surgical procedure. Sad to say there isn’t a cure for them. After having surgery on my ankle I developed the same conditions as a result of using a cold therapy device. I’m certain that your doctors are fully aware of what the problem is. They just don’t want to be held liable for your injuries as across the country some juries have held doctors as well as the manufactures of the device jointly liable.

  4. Bif Reply

    I believe it’s a user malfunction error. These machines have to be used like ice. You wouldn’t leave ice on your body for an extended time without frostbite why would you assume you could do it with a cold therapy machine.

    These are good units and help the healing process. Unfortunately foolish people who have filed lawsuits and won based on their own stupidity are going to make these machines hard to come by as a prescription. Doctors wont prescribe them for liability reasons and patients will have to buy them outright, not covered by insurance.

    It’s sad that we can’t stop these types of frivolous lawsuits. If you are so stupid that you don’t know that leaving ice on your leg for an extended period of time is going to cause injury then you can’t be helped. Your stupidity earned that injury. Nonsense!!!

  5. wgcbear Reply

    My husband will be undergoing shoulder surgery and I was lucky enough to borrow one to use. Bif is RIGHT! Anyone stupid enough to apply ANY cold applications (with either a device such as Polar Care or a bag of ice) to their body without monitoring it, is responsible for injuring THEMSELVES…
    A lawsuit to award someone for being ignorant? Patients have to be somewhat responsible for their own health and should know the risks. From what I read, Polar Care states the risks in the instructions, regardless of a doctor’s orders….

  6. BA Reply

    This sounds like the McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit. As has been mentioned, the plaintiff more than likely didn’t cycle on and off the cold therapy treatment. There should be a warning that reads: “If you are too dumb to understand that ice is cold, don’t buy this product”.

  7. BA Reply

    This sounds like the McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit. As has been mentioned, the plaintiff more than likely didn’t cycle on and off the cold therapy treatment. There should be a warning that reads: “If you are too dumb to understand that ice is cold, don’t buy this product”.

  8. ian Reply

    My doctor offered the polar care as an option. It was not prescribed, but he stated it has helped others with similar acl tears. He warned me and gave me specific instructions not to leave it on for long periods of time. It’s been a few years, so I don’t recall the exact time he stated to use it, but he did state it was like ice. Don’t leave it on too long or you will he injured. Anyone injuring themselves with this unit is not thinking clearly. You are placing ice water on your skin. Be smart!!

  9. VV Reply

    I used the Berg 500 polar ice machine on my knee for osteo arthritis and it was fabulous. I agree with those who stated that common sense needs to be followed. the 15 or 20 minute icing time needs to be observed, and if the temperature gauge is available not to go below the recommendations. I have never found a more wonderful solution to icing than this machine.

  10. Robert Reply

    My wife and I have used cold machines (EB Ice and Donjoy Iceman 3) consequent to 4 surgeries. Used according to the directions, they provide pain control with reduced use of drugs. It is possible to cut doses of painkillers in half or more, and avoid the other effects that the powerful opiods have.

    I have read some of the claims against them, and frankly the text of every claim shows obvious misuse in not having a cloth between the ice pad and the skin, and leaving it on too long.

    The most absurd claim was “frostbite”, wherein the skin is actually frozen solid and blood vessels rupture. The only way this could be done is if a refrigerant such as Freon were pumped through the machine. Contact with cold water simply will not cause frostbite, as it cannot lower the temperature below freezing without freezing itself and blocking the passages in the machine.

    People who injure themselves with these machines are clearly unable or unwilling to follow simple directions. They should not be allowed to use any medical devices or pharmaceuticals without direct supervision. Operation of motor vehicles, power tools, use of cutlery, etc. should also be prohibited due to the extreme danger they pose to themselves and others.

    As far as the level of danger, it is approximately similar to using plastic bags full of ice. If one keeps ice directly on the site continuously, the effect will be the same or worse than circulating cold water through the pad of one of these machines.

    These lawsuits are simply attempts to extort money using the courts, and without merit. They make no more sense than suing the manufacturer of plastic bags used to ice injuries.

  11. nikki Reply

    I had knee surgery, and was given a ice therapy machine i love it……. first of all you need use a had towel or something as a barrier between the skin and the machine i wrap my knee with a towel then wrap the ice thingy around my knee most times i do it at night and fall asleep no problems at all

  12. AC Reply

    I purchased a PolarIce machine after being loaned one following shoulder surgery. I agree 100% with the posters who had positive results after using the machines PROPERLY; specifically by using a cloth between the pad & the skin (use the brain the good Lord gave you!!). In all 3 surgical instances (shoulder & knees) I used it the exact same way & for a 36-hour stretch – even while sleeping – & my only discomfort came from having to get up to refill the machine with ice.

    The use of this machine allowed me to use only 2 of the 20 prescribed Percocets & dramatically reduce the post-op swelling – not to mention avoiding the constant & annoying having to get up in intervals to get an ice pack, which by the way you STILL put cloth between the ice pack & your skin for God’s sake!

    I would hever have a surgery without using my CT machine.

  13. DIANA Reply

    I have a clear warning for anyone who believes that these machines cannot cause serious injury even while used in the hospital for post-op care. My husband just had a total knee replacement and the hospital used a cryotherapy machine on him around the clock for 48 hours without monitoring his skin at all. He developed huge blood blisters all over his leg around the surgical site, the largest being about 4″ x 7″ and deep into the tissue below causing scar tissue. It has been over one month now and they’re still not healed. The tissue damage beneath is more obvious though.
    We have pictures and uninvolved medical professionals as our witnesses. They can cause serious injury and it wasn’t from his own doing.

  14. Hawk Reply

    I strongly agree with Robert, AC, and others here in this posting that rave about the benefits of cold therapy. People have GOT TO USE GOOD SENSE! I would say common sense; but if it were common, everyone would have it. And obviously some don’t. I’m a recently retired paratrooper of 30 years and have been using my Polar Care 500 for years and have loaned it to friends and family a lot. Nothing but rave reviews. For non major issues like muscle sprains and strains, the machines should only be used for about 20 minutes on–20 minutes off as needed. Otherwise follow doctor/manufacturer instructions. What a novel idea.

  15. Bob Reply

    I have had two rotator cuffs done and a knee meniscus repair. I found polar ice machines to be the most effective swelling and pain reliever available. I used them several times a day for weeks after the surgerys, and would frequently go to sleep at night with it in. I just put a vey thin cloth between it and my skin and had no problems.

  16. Laura Reply

    I had surgery on my left shoulder. I also used a cold Ice machine. I had RSD in my left arm.I had to have treatment for nerve damage. I followed my doctors instructions on use of this device. I still have problems with my arm.

  17. Dumb people Reply

    You’re not supposed to use these things for hours at a time morons. Second, use a damn cloth between the source and your skin. Common. sense is dead in America.

  18. Glenda Reply

    I had a TKR on my right knee on December 15. I have used the Polar Care 500 around the clock for weeks after the surgery, including 24 hours day while in the hospital for four days. The relief this has given me is tremendous. It is our own responsibility to check the area every so Often. One of the above posts mentioned Freon, my husband an I own a HVAC company and I know for a fact that the ice therapy machine get NOwhere near that cold. My husband used it after his foot fusion surgery with no problems, and he has circulatory problems. I would never consider not using one.

  19. Sylvia Reply

    I love my polar care cube this machine gave me back my life I have intense knee pain from having two surgery’s with ice therapy I was able to get off of pain medication use common sense when you use any medical device check the area often use a barrier between you and the pad most importantly don’t ruin this way to relive pain for others cause you don’t wanna follow instructions I have good insurance but do to stupid people’s actions I had to come out of pocket 230 dollars for my cube it’s simple if you can’t use it as directed don’t use it all its that easy !!!!

  20. Kathy Reply

    I had ankle surgery and went to physical therapy where they used a Game Ready cold water/ice machine 2 times a week for only about 3,weeks.in increments of 15-20 minutes. I noticed the bottom of my foot turning real rough. Next thing I know, my skin in real deep tissue layers are peeling off. I have no explanation for it. I thought it was a horrific case of athletes foot from the cold therapy boot however, my new therapist from a different company said he thinks it’s from a burn. Has anyone experienced anything like this? Thank you

  21. Nancy Reply

    I agree with Glenda. I was in the hospital for 12 days (9 of them in rehab) and my Iceman stayed on my knee 24/7. I’d know right away when it needed to be refilled, because my knee would start throbbing again. A great invention that I got to take home and continue to use it here, but not round-the-clock. My doctor made it very clear as do the instructions, that the pad should never go directly on your skin.

  22. Joe Reply

    Once again stupid people have ruined pain relief for those of us that truly need it and are responsible enough to use it… I’ve had 4 surgeries on my left knee and now they say I will eventually need a knee replacement. My doctor wrote a rx for a polar care cube and my insurance company denied it due to they don’t cover any type of cold water, ice, or cryotherapy devices. So now if I want relief from the pain and swelling I either have to use ice packs or pay out of pocket for a polar cube. I used one after my surgeries and it was the best feeling I have ever felt! All I did was wrap an ace bandage around my knee and put the breg knee pad on. I NEVER had any problems with it! $12M for operator error and being too stupid to not monitor your skin… Ridiculous!

  23. Amy Reply

    I loved mine too! And am going in for another surgery – unfortunately I need to buy it this time – now I know why!
    I’ll echo what others have said about proper use – but what no one has mentioned is that if someone is on pain killers they may not be thinking properly… and may not feel the pain associated with damage.

  24. Daniel Reply

    Big you are absolutely right. I have a Polar 500 and in my opinion it’s a godsent! I got mine in 1997 for a femur fracture. I didn’t get rid of it just in case and I’m sure glad I didn’t. If you read the sticker on it it says DO NOT apply directly to skin. That means to all you ignorant people out there put it on OVER your sock and that would be on your foot if you’re still confused. Your doctor gave this to you in hopes that it would help manage your pain without having to take measures of strong narcotic medications that are very addictive. Use your head people. Doctors don’t want to earn their paycheck at the expense of your misery. They’re there to help us not for you to abuse the system for money at the expense of their license which most of you idiots can’t even spell. It’s people like that is why medical treatment is so expensive. Point proven that you can’t fix stupid or the medical field would have done it by now

  25. Steven Reply

    As usual, people who burn themselves with coffee, suffocate by experimenting with plastic bags over their heads, want to find our what bleach tastes likes, or endeavor to clean a loaded shotgun, get precisely what they deserve. Fortunately, those who take themselves of the gene pool before they procreate may even win a coveted Darwin Award.
    Why any adult would think that it’s safe to use an ice compress for unlimited lengths of time or without a bit of cloth insulation between a sack of ice or their Breg device, and the surface of their skin is beyond me.
    If we Americans really need warnings on plastic bags or to caution us that coffee is hot to protect us from our own stupidity, something is terribly wrong, and hint: it’s not the coffee.
    The silver lining is that we may be assisting evolution in thinning the population of those who really should not be passing on their genes. However, there is always an ambulance chaser advising these half-wits that “money damages” can be had by filing suit against the company that provided them means by which they hurt themselves. I’m waiting to buy a knife that comes with a warning advising me that it’s very sharp, and if plunged into my or my loved one’s chest, lethal injury may result.

  26. Lila Reply

    I used the Breg Cold Therapy unit on my knee after a knee replacement, it was wonderful. Now having some issues with the an ankle on the other leg; asked my doctor and she has ordered up the foot/ankle unit for me. So much easier than ice packs. 20 minutes on 20 minutes off, no issues. This was a self pay item, well worth every cent if it works as good as the knee pad.

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