Our cosmetic surgery negligence team are contacted most days by clients asking, 'Can I claim compensation if my cosmetic surgery goes wrong?'
With the number of cosmetic procedures on the increase and the widespread availability of non-surgical beauty treatments on the high street, it is perhaps no surprise that complaints against cosmetic surgeons, clinics and hospitals are also on the rise.
The level of dissatisfaction is particularly high in cases where people have been enticed into making a quick decision because of time limited offers, or even two-for-one promotions on certain procedures.
Dissatisfied patients usually pursue a compensation claim based on allegations of negligence against the surgeon, hospital or clinic. In most cases this is usually sufficient, but circumstances can arise where other legal avenues may need to be relied on.
Consumer Credit Act
There is much legal debate as to whether a patient is able to bring a claim for failed cosmetic surgery under the Consumer Credit Act. This is a piece of legislation designed to protect a consumer who has paid for goods or services of between £100 to £30,000 on a credit card or under some credit loans. It gives additional legal protection when goods or services are not delivered or have been misrepresented. However, the legislation does not apply when the consumer is simply unhappy with the outcome. We have represented hundreds of women in the PIP breast implant scandal and have successfully recovered compensation for many women who had paid for their surgery on a credit card or through a finance agreement. In these cases the product used, the breast implant itself, was made from an industrial grade silicone which was not fit for its intended use. It was helpful to be able to rely on this legislation as a number of the defendants involved had ceased trading or were not insured.
Patients may also be able to rely on contract law principles when a surgeon or clinic does not comply with the agreed terms of the contract. It is important therefore that anyone considering cosmetic surgery studies the contractual paperwork carefully before signing up to a procedure, making sure they understand the terms and are clear about what is, and what is not, included.
Using the complaints process
When a patient feels that a mistake or error has occurred then we would encourage them to seek expert legal advice as quickly as possible and certainly well before the expiry of the 3 year limitation period. However, for those who prefer to handle matters themselves or are not ready to go to law a patient can contact the clinic or hospital direct to express their concerns. Most patients are allocated a patient co-ordinator at the beginning of their treatment and this is usually the best first point of contact.
It is sometimes necessary to allow time for things to settle down after the procedure before the final outcome can be assessed. If after a reasonable period the patient remains dissatisfied they can write a letter of complaint to the clinic asking them to investigate what has happened. A letter of complaint should explain what has gone wrong, what you were looking for in terms of the desired result and what you would like them to do about it.
Making a compensation claim
If the patient is unhappy with the response then it is probably time to contact a lawyer who has specialist knowledge in this area of law. To be successful in a negligence claim, a claimant must be able to establish that the treatment they received fell below the standard that could reasonably be expected of a competent surgeon. A claimant must also show that they suffered an injury or financial loss as a result of the breach of duty.
There is often a difference of opinion in the medical profession as to whether a procedure has been performed negligently or not; what one surgeon would consider appropriate may be different to another surgeon's views of good practice. Just because one surgeon would undertake a procedure in a different way to another does not necessarily make one opinion invalid or negligent. Establishing negligence can therefore be complex and that is the main reason for speaking to a lawyer who has specialist experience in dealing with this type of case.
When we are consulted and take the initial view that a potential case has merit we will usually offer to review of the complaint and any official response received. We will also review any 'before and after' photos you may have along with any medical records that may be available.
Do your homework before you undergo treatment
Undergoing a cosmetic procedure is a huge step, even when it involves the seemingly minor, non-surgical treatments such as botox or fillers. A great deal of thought should be given to it by the patient before they take that step. The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons have produced a consumer guide for individuals considering surgery. In line with their advice, we would suggest to any prospective patient to always:
1. Research the procedure – make sure you know what is involved, including possible complications and recovery times;
2. Research the surgeon – make sure they are registered to practice in the UK and fully insured;
3. Consider the alternatives – perhaps you don’t actually need surgery to get the result you want;
4. Make sure you are very clear with the surgeon about what outcome you are looking for; and
5. Be realistic about what can actually be achieved though surgery.