Can you claim compensation for plastic surgery gone wrong?

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A lot can go wrong with plastic surgery – nerve damage, anesthesia errors, or surgical intervention that actually makes an existing problem worse. The results can be very serious, including pain, scarring, infections, disfigurement or even death. But not every bad result is the result of medical negligence. And medical negligence, as a technical legal concept, is what you need to show to support a claim for compensation.

Whether a claim succeeds may depend on:

  • the strength of expert testimony about current medical standards;
  • adequate records of the treatment (or mistreatment) received; and
  • whether the claim was filed within a very short period of time.

There is much more to making a claim for compensation for plastic surgery gone wrong than showing harm. Make sure you have the professional help you will need.

What is medical negligence?

Medical negligence, like negligence in general, has four elements:

  • One party – a doctor, nurse, or hospital – must owe another, like  a patient, a duty of care;
  • The practitioner breached that duty by failing to act with a customary standard of care;
  • The patient was injured; and
  • The injury was proven to be caused by the practitioner’s failure.

The injury in plastic surgery negligence cases is usually pretty clear. But it can be very difficult to show that the injury was caused by some fault of the doctor and not some intervening or secondary cause. Did the patient stop breathing because the anesthesiologist was inattentive or because of undiagnosed asthma?

It may also be difficult to establish what the customary standard of care is. Is the surgeon who repairs a newborn’s cleft lip expected to leave no scar or is a scar that may fade with time a professionally acceptable outcome?

These two issues are why medical negligence cases require expert assistance. Surgery is risky. Unfortunate consequences, by themselves, are not always enough to show negligence.

Many people are familiar with surgical horror stories – the clamp left inside a patient or the wrong limb amputated – but medical negligence cases are not limited to surgical mishaps.

Beyond surgical mistakes

Four other areas are especially likely to give rise to medical negligence claims:

Failure to obtain informed consent:  Generally before a surgeon undertakes a cosmetic procedure he or she should evaluate a patient from a psychological point of view to determine whether the person is a suitable candidate. Unless a surgeon takes care to explain the pros and cons of cosmetic surgery and advises patients about possible risks, patients may not be able to give informed consent. For patients under the age of 18, a doctor has an even greater duty of care.

Mistakes with anesthesia:  Patients who were sedated during surgery or given pain medication following a procedure may have a valid medical negligence claim if the medication or dosage was wrong. This may happen if the doctor takes an incomplete history of allergies or preexisting conditions and fails to tailor medication appropriately.

When anesthesia is required, patients should also make sure that the procedure is performed at an adequate facility. Mistakes with anesthesia can be especially serious, potentially exposing a patient not only to unnecessary pain but respiratory crises or cardiac arrest.

Inadequately trained medical practitioner: If your treatment involves a surgical procedure, you should verify that your doctor is a specialist plastic surgeon, with proper Australian licensure. Look for specialized training. Your GP may be great for most health concerns, but may not be the best person to perform liposuction or a facelift.

Time is not your friend

In most cases, patients must take legal action within three years of the injury. If the plastic surgery malpractice claim is for a child, time limits can vary more and differ between states. Whatever your situation, it is best to contact a lawyer with special expertise in medical injuries as soon as possible. Extensions of time limits are sometimes possible, but not always.

If you have questions about what compensation you might recover for plastic surgery gone wrong, please call the attorneys at Owen Hodge Lawyers to schedule a consultation. Our phone number is 1800 770 780, and we look forward to speaking with you.


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