Final Verdict: Botched Plastic Surgery Costs
Cosmetic surgery is big business in the United States, with over $16 billion spent annually. Most people who hear about cosmetic surgery think of purely elective and optional procedures like facelifts, breast enhancements, and liposuction, but it’s important to remember that cosmetic and plastic surgeons also perform necessary and medically-indicated procedures. A plastic surgeon may do facial reconstructive surgery after a disfiguring accident, or provide breast reconstruction after breast cancer surgery.
Every cosmetic and plastic surgery carries some degree of risk. Complications can include infection, rejection of implants or grafts, or asymmetry. Before agreeing to undergo any surgery, a patient should review the risks with the doctor carefully. However, known risks are different from surgical mistakes. A patient assumes the doctor will not make avoidable mistakes in conducting the various procedures and steps. The fruition of known risks are not medical malpractice, but preventable injuries from poor surgical skill can open up a provider to liability.
On April 10, 2017, 77-year-old Supen Stuart went to plastic surgeon Michael Gross to have a blepharoplasty, a procedure which removes fat from the eyelids in order to decrease puffiness and preserve function. The surgery was elective, but is typically low-risk. The Mayo Clinic explains:
Besides making you look older, severely sagging skin around your eyes can reduce your side vision (peripheral vision), especially the upper and outer parts of your field of vision. Blepharoplasty can reduce or eliminate these vision problems and make your eyes appear younger and more alert.
After the procedure, Supen found she was unable to open either eye. Another physician performed a follow-up which allowed her to open her left eyelid, but her right eyelid remained permanently damaged. She was left unable to blink normally or open her right eye without using her hand, making her effectively blind in that eye.
Medical malpractice attorneys for Supen sued Dr. Gross, arguing he had violated ordinary standards of care in performing the procedure. They called the second doctor as an expert witness, who explained that Dr. Gross had severed tendons in the left eye and a muscle in the right eye during the procedure. The sloppy surgical work had been the cause of her injuries, and although he had been able to repair the tendon in the left eye, the muscular damage in the right eye was irreparable. Dr. Gross had cut too deep while removing fatty tissue. Supen sought compensation for the disfigurement caused by the mistake as well as the loss of functional vision in her right eye, testifying that the injury made her self-conscious and altered her quality of life. Cohen & Cohen
During the six-day trial, Dr. Gross testified on his own behalf, claiming that he had noted the damage after the procedure was completed. He claimed it had not been his fault and that he had not deviated from ordinary standards of care. The Fairfax County jury didn’t buy his argument, and awarded Supen $800,000 in damages for medical malpractice, surgical error, and negligence.