Malpractice Lawsuits from Laser Surgery on the Rise

Medical malpractice applies to a wide range of healthcare settings, from dental work to dolling out medications. With the widespread popularity of laser surgery, many patients underestimate the potential side effects of the procedure. Like any other medical procedure, however, if doctors deviate from the standard of care, medical malpractice claims can be filed.

Laser surgery is available in every major city throughout the US, and companies are consistently offering their services via Groupon and other marketing websites. Because of its availability and affordability, the number of Americans undergoing laser surgery is on the rise. Many people do not realize that there are no federal standards regulating who can administer laser surgery, neither are there any training or supervision requirements.

According to JAMA Dermatology, at least 174 malpractice lawsuits have been filed due to injuries from skin laser surgery. Plastic surgeons are most often named as defendants in these cases, representing more than 25% of the claims. Dermatologists came in a close second, with more than 20%.

More than 900,000 laser hair removal surgeries were performed in the US in 2011. Other applications for cutaneous laser surgery include skin rejuvenation, for treatment of leg veins, and vascular lesions. In the skin rejuvenation procedure, carbon dioxide is used to resurface the skin, and can lead to a number of complications, include scarring, burns, and changes in pigment.

In the 174 lawsuits, emotional distress was cited numerous times, as were complaints of a lower quality of life from the procedures. One patient died while under general anesthesia for skin rejuvenation laser surgery. A second patient death was linked to a fatal dose of topical anesthesia during laser hair removal.

The average amount in damages the plaintiffs received was upwards of $380,000, ranging from $5,000 to more than $2 million. Allegations against physicians included acts of negligence, lack of training and supervision of staff, failure to provide warnings of potential hazards, and using inappropriate devices.

Many physicians were named as defendants even when they themselves did not conduct the procedure. This is because the physicians are still responsible for the outcome of the procedure even if they have a nurse of clinician physically perform it. Additionally, many of these laser surgery providers are uninsured, and would not be able to pay an award if it was granted. Physicians are required to hold insurance by federal law.

It is now recommended that physicians and patients alike considering laser surgery should familiarize themselves with their state’s particular regulations, and ensure that all staff have the necessary training and licensing to properly conduct the procedure. Clinicians who perform laser surgeries and have not been extensively trained are often held to the same standards of liability as those who are specialists in the field.

This does not apply to more invasive laser surgeries, such as Lasik, which certified and insured physicians must perform. Medical malpractice lawsuits over laser eye surgery are not uncommon, however. In Las Vegas, for example, one eye doctor has been sued for malpractice at least 17 times during his career. The plaintiffs allege that he advertised for state-of-the-art laser eye corrective surgery at a flat rate, which turned out to be false. The doctor lost his medical license in Ohio in 2005, moved to Nevada, and used his wife’s medical license to open an eye clinic in 2006. He was the first eye surgeon to ever be so severely disciplined in the state of Ohio.

The FDA and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery are currently working on an investigation into the quality of life for patients after Lasik surgery. Additionally, laser spine surgery is an especially expensive procedure, although there is no research to show that it is any more effective than traditional spine surgery. It has also been subject to numerous lawsuits in past years.

Laser surgery lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm remind the public that, although the FDA regulates medical devices, there is currently no federal supervision for the effectiveness of laser surgical techniques. If you or someone you love suffered serious injuries from laser surgery, you may be entitled to compensation through a medical malpractice claim.