Decorative contact lenses have been on the rise in popularity, offering people the chance to change their eye color or even their eye shape. For example, a person can make the irises of their eyes completely black. Or a person can add red rims to their irises. With the decorative lens known as the “Banshee,” a person can make their pupils almond-shaped rather than round and add red rims to their irises. A wide variety of provocative looks are available at very low prices—sales surge around Halloween.
The problem is that decorative lenses often cause injuries because they do not fit the eye well. It is important to keep in mind that contact lenses are medical devices. People who use contact lenses must follow certain procedures to use them in a way that does not create a risk of eye injury.
If any contact lens is not used correctly, it can increase a person’s risk of developing an eye infection, and the damage to their eyes can be permanent. Cheap decorative contact lenses have caused blindness in some of their users.
Contact lenses prescribed by ophthalmologists, trained and licensed by eye doctors, are fitted to a person’s eyes. Decorative contact lenses are often sold without a prescription by small novelty shops, via the Internet, and even at gas stations. They are not fitted to the eye of the person who buys them, which is one characteristic of decorative lenses that can lead to problems. The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends purchasing contact lenses prescribed for them by licensed physicians and having them fitted by professional opticians.
Are Decorative Contact Lenses Legal?
The sale of contact lenses without a prescription is illegal in the U.S. and has been illegal since 2005. Federal law requires all contact lenses to be distributed to licensed eye care professionals only. The seller of contact lenses must verify that a customer has a valid prescription and sell them the lenses specified in the prescription. Federal Fairness requires these measures to the Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA).
Anyone who sells contact lenses violating the FCLCA can be penalized with a civil fine of as much as $16,000 per violation. If someone knows that contact lenses are being sold to people without prescriptions, they can report the seller to the FDA.
In 2022, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a complaint against the Vision Path company, which sold its own “Hubble” brand of contact lenses directly to consumers online. The company failed to verify that the buyers had prescriptions. Or they sold their contacts to customers after learning that they did not have valid prescriptions in violation of the law. The company also substituted its own brand of lenses when they were not what a doctor had prescribed for the customer.
Can Decorative Contact Lenses Be Harmful?
Due to improper fitting, people have suffered various injuries from decorative contact lenses, including medical problems from minor scratches to blindness. Ulcers of the cornea are very common, caused by wearing the decorative lenses longer than recommended. Ulcers of the cornea can lead to infection and further complications. Possible injuries include the following:
- Swelling: The cornea, which is the clear, colored lens part of the eye, can become swollen;
- Ulcers: An open sore caused by a break in the skin or a mucous membrane that does not heal. Decorative lenses have been known to cause ulcers of the cornea. These ulcers can become infected;
- Scarring: Even if a corneal ulcer heals, it can cause permanent scarring of the cornea;
- Effects on a Person’s Vision: Swelling and ulcers can negatively affect a person’s vision, even after healing.
Decorative contact lenses can be used safely. Eye doctors recommend that a person see an ophthalmologist before buying decorative contact lenses or any other kind of contact lens. An ophthalmologist measures a patient’s eyes so that any lenses they buy fit their property. This reduces the risk of injury.
Ophthalmologists also provide a patient with information about how to use contacts safely. For example, contact lenses need to be removed regularly and cleaned. A person should never share contact lenses with other people. They have to be replaced at regular intervals.
An ophthalmologist provides patients with prescriptions they can take to a legal retailer. A legally-operated retailer only sells to people with prescriptions and then sells only lenses that the FDA has approved.
What Can I Do If I Have Been Injured by Decorative Contact Lenses?
A person who believes that they have suffered a significant eye injury because they used non-prescription, black market decorative contact lenses can file a lawsuit for damages against the manufacturer and distributors of these lenses.
A person might sue on a strict product liability theory. In a strict product liability case, a person does not have to prove wrongdoing on anyone’s part. Rather a person must only show that a manufacturer or distributor placed a defective product on the market and the defect caused personal injury.
One product defect that might apply especially to the decorative contact lens situation is the warning defect. The risks of buying over-the-counter decorative lenses without a prescription are well known, and if a manufacturer or distributor were to sell these without any warning about the known risks, they would open themselves up to a strict product liability lawsuit.
Another good option for decorative lenses would be a lawsuit for negligence. This would be especially appropriate if the seller sold lenses to a person who did not have a prescription in violation of the law. Or if the seller sold lenses other than those prescribed by a doctor to a person, they could also be sued for negligence.
Whether the facts of a person’s situation support a case for strict product liability or a negligence case, the person in both seeks an award of compensatory damages. Compensatory damages reimburse a person for both the economic losses they may have suffered and the non-economic losses.
Economic losses are such items as the full cost of all necessary medical treatment that a person needs for their injury. The loss of salary or wages should be reimbursed. In addition, the loss of future wages or salary because of a continuing inability to work may be reimbursed by an award of compensatory damages.
In a decorative contact lens case, if a person’s eye injury has had permanent consequences, it may affect their employment in the long term. A damages award can also compensate for a loss of earning capacity. This could be an issue if a person’s eye injury affected their ability to do the work they were qualified for before they were injured.
Do I Need a Lawyer for My Decorative Contact Lens Injury?
If decorative contact lenses have injured your eyes, you need to consult an experienced class action attorney. An attorney can help you take legal action to compensate for your injuries. They can analyze the facts of your case to determine who might be legally responsible and how best to proceed to recover the damages to which you are entitled. Your attorney can enlist the help of medical and other experts whose opinions might be needed to make your strongest case.