Surgical injury lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report that more and more patients are filing lawsuits against non-physicians after being burned or otherwise injured during laser surgery. The first comprehensive study conducted on this topic was recently published in JAMA Dermatology.
The majority of lawsuits being filed are against non-doctors, typically nurses and other technicians, who performed the surgeries outside traditional settings, like in “medical spas,” where other procedures such as Botox are often advertised. Researchers found that, in the short time between 2008 and 2011, the number of lawsuits involving medical assistants, interns, nurses, or technicians more than doubled.
Laser surgery uses beams of light to remove diseased tissue, hair, wrinkles, birthmarks, sunspots, or bleeding blood vessels, among other applications. There are several types of surgical procedures that can include laser, including spine and eye surgeries. In laymen’s terms, lasers are focused on very small areas to heat skin cells until they rupture.
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Like any other procedure, laser surgery is not inherently safe; possible risks include extensive bleeding, infection, burn, scarring, and skin color changes. Each individual state determines who can perform laser surgeries and where, and the requirements between states varies substantially. In Maine, for example, only licensed physicians can perform laser hair removal, while in Nevada, there are literally no restrictions on who can wield a laser. Likewise, there are currently no federal laws dictating who can operate lasers or what kind of training or supervision is required.
The comprehensive study was headed by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, who examined data regarding liability claims for laser skin surgery (which excludes more serious procedures, such as for glaucoma or on the spine). They found that in 2008, just over 35% of laser skin surgery claims involved non-doctors; by 2011, that percentage jumped to 78%, and by 2012 had reached 85%.
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Far and away the most common claims involved people injured during laser hair removal, followed by rejuvenation (a facial procedure common in medical spas) and treatments for scars and leg veins. This rise in legal claims suggests and very nearly proves that undergoing a laser procedure in a non-medical setting by a non-medical doctor is incredibly dangerous.
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It should be noted that this data only includes liability claims that make it to court; there are many, many other laser injury claims not included here that are settled out of court or injuries not pursued legally by the victim. The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery Association (ASDSA) stated that laser procedures, when done by a non-physician, are to at least be physically overseen by a medical doctor, to respond to or correct any problem that may occur.
Medical officials are now hoping to urge policymakers to render laser surgery a medical procedure, to only be conducted by a licensed physician. States can enact this requirement by defining laser procedures as “practicing medicine,” which will directly determine how patients are treated and protected.
The ASDSA, for one, defines the practice of medicine as any act or procedure that uses a mechanical device and could capably damage living tissue. Skin-related laser surgeries are among the most popular elective procedures in the U.S., and states and regulators need to keep up with this demand to keep citizens safe.
To keep up with demand, many physicians are delegating laser hair removal procedures to nurses and technicians in the interest of time. In many cases, these physicians can be held liable for laser-related injuries even if they were not personally operating the device. One retrospective study found that, out of 174 cases of laser injury, only 100 physicians actually performed the procedure, yet 146 of the claims listed the physician as a defendant.
Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm are currently reviewing and investigating cases of serious injury from laser surgical procedures. We have the unique resources and specific knowledge to help guide you through the process of filing a claim and obtaining compensation for your injuries.
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