Generally, people undergo cosmetic surgery out of choice rather than necessity. While other types of plastic surgery may be used to repair defects or scarring, cosmetic surgery is usually sought to improve an individual’s attractiveness. Examples include rhinoplasty, face lifts, neck lifts, breast augmentation surgery, and liposuction. However, if something goes seriously wrong, a patient may have a claim against the health care provider who was responsible. Some of the injuries that may arise in these cases include nerve injuries, infections, scarring, and conditions resulting from the improper use of anesthesia.
Proving the Liability of a Cosmetic Surgeon
Even though cosmetic surgery is elective, a surgeon is still responsible for maintaining the appropriate standard of care in their specialty. This is generally defined as what a competent cosmetic surgeon would have done when they were treating a similarly situated patient undergoing the same procedure. If you can prove that you had a doctor-patient relationship with the cosmetic surgeon, and they fell short of the appropriate standard of care, you likely can establish liability.
Cosmetic surgery claims usually require the assistance of expert testimony to prove the defendant’s departure from the appropriate standard of care. For example, perhaps the surgeon failed to notice signs of patient distress during the procedure, or perhaps they made a deeper or longer incision than needed, disrupting other areas of the patient’s body. (In some cases, the defendant may be not the cosmetic surgeon but instead an anesthesiologist or another assistant who made a mistake.)
You should be aware that personal dissatisfaction with your appearance after the procedure does not make a surgeon liable for malpractice. Instead, you must point to a specific injury that resulted from an error by the doctor or other health care provider. Evidence of medical treatment needed to address the consequences of the error can be compelling, as well as testimony about the impact of the error on your work or daily activities.
Side Effects and Risks
Like other medical procedures, cosmetic surgery comes with certain risks. The surgeon has a responsibility to discuss these risks with the patient and get their informed consent for the procedure. If this happens, the patient cannot hold the doctor liable for malpractice based on the occurrence of a known complication during the procedure. Certain minor side effects, like bruising or swelling around the affected area, are not uncommon following cosmetic surgery. Patients usually undergo procedures in the awareness of these risks, and the side effects tend to be temporary. If you bring a medical malpractice claim based on cosmetic surgery, therefore, you may need to counter an argument by the surgeon that you were aware of the risks and agreed to move forward with the procedure.
On the other hand, if the doctor did not properly get informed consent from you before the procedure, you may be able to hold them liable if you suffered from side effects of which you were not warned. You likely would need to prove that you would not have undergone the procedure if you had been aware of the risk of the side effect that affected you.