In the case of Giles v Chambers  the court has awarded more than £154,000 in compensation following a negligently performed VASER liposuction treatment.
This negligent liposuction case highlights a number of important legal issues relating to cosmetic surgery claims. In particular it raises questions about the accuracy of a cosmetic surgeon’s consultation notes and the effect that negligent cosmetic procedures can have on vulnerable patients.
VASER, short for vibration amplification of sound, energy and resonance, is a relatively new liposuction procedure carried out under general anaesthetic. It involves the breakdown of fat in the body through the application of ultrasound energy, which is then aspirated. This new method of fat removal is considered to be less invasive than traditional liposuction which involves the removal of fat from the body before it is broken down. In this case the Defendant was seen as a pioneer of the VASER procedure and relatively experienced in its application.
The Claimant underwent VASER liposuction treatment for the removal of fat from her thighs and buttocks at a private London clinic in 2012. The Claimant was a beautician experienced in permanent/tattoo make up, practicing just a short distance from the Defendant. The Claimant had previously undergone a number of cosmetic procedures, including liposuction.
During the VASER liposuction procedure, the Defendant removed a significant amount of fat from her buttocks and thighs. A short time after the surgery the Claimant became ill with nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, requiring two admissions to hospital where she was given antibiotics and fluids. She developed seromas which had to be drained. Follow-up treatment included the use of compression garments and lymphatic massage. The resulting appearance was described as “defattened and skeletonised”. She subsequently underwent fat transfers to replace some of the fat that was removed, as too much had been taken.
At the negligent liposuction trial there were two particular areas in dispute:
(i) the patient's desired outcome and
(ii) the amount of fat aspirated.
There were differences between the parties’ views about the desired outcome of the surgery. The patient said she asked for a feminine appearance, whereas the cosmetic surgeon said the Claimant had asked for a “sculptured and muscled high definition appearance” which she had advised the Claimant against.
The surgeon’s consultation notes were sparse, with the Defendant acknowledging that she would frequently ‘copy and paste’ text from one patient consultation to another as she was very busy. In this particular case she accepted that she had not made any note about the conversation with the Claimant regarding the desired outcome.
The Judge rejected the cosmetic surgeon's defence, concluding that it was “inconceivable” that a doctor of her experience would not have made a detailed note of such significant advice. He also favoured the Claimant’s evidence that she had not wanted such a radical change, particularly in light of her overall appearance and previous surgical procedures.
There was also an argument about how much fat had been removed during the operation. The Claimant alleged that over six litres (thirteen pints) of fat were removed. The cosmetic surgeon however said that if she had mentioned to the Claimant that six litres had been removed, it was likely to have been a combination of fat, blood and other cells and not purely fat.
The Claimant suffered psychiatric problems as a result of the negligent cosmetic surgery. She had a longstanding history of recurrent depression and anxiety, albeit considered ‘mild’ at the time of surgery, for which she was taking medication. She was not thought to be suffering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder and her decision to undergo various cosmetic procedures was to improve her self-esteem. Following the negligent liposuction procedure, the Claimant’s psychological condition had been exacerbated and was subsequently classified as ‘severe’.
A key aspect of this negligent liposuction claim, and one which is often found in the cases we deal with, is the questionable quality of consultation notes produced by the cosmetic surgeon. If detailed consultation notes been made by the surgeon in this case the outcome may have been different. As it was, the Judge concluded that the performance of the liposuction procedure was negligent, awarding the claimant significant compensation.
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