Laser skin rejuvenation procedures have grown in popularity among Americans who are trying to turn back the clock. The procedures that are most often requested by people who are seeking to reverse signs of aging include skin resurfacing and skin tightening, usually in the facial area. Lasers are also commonly used to improve the appearance of scars from acne, trauma, or surgery. The most common lawsuit filed after laser surgery occurs among people who are treated for hair removal.
Cosmetic procedures are a cash-only business for physicians, since they aren’t usually covered by insurance. As a result, many doctors who are untrained in cosmetic dermatology or plastic surgery have jumped on the bandwagon with the purchase of lasers intended to increase practice revenues. A growing number of “medical spas” employ the use of lasers in the hands of operators who are not physicians at all. Most lawsuits involving cosmetic laser procedures are the result of this trend, although bad results can occur even in the hands of a doctor with board certification in an appropriate specialty.
Lasers can be termed “ablative” or “nonablative,” depending upon whether or not they destroy the top layer of skin during the treatment. Ablative laser procedures are riskier than nonablative procedures, since the epidermis is destroyed in addition to producing thermal damage in the lower dermal layer of the skin. This results in an open wound that can become infected easily during the prolonged recovery period. Recovery lasts two to four weeks, the length of time it takes for new skin to grow and replace the destroyed skin in the areas of treatment. This also carries a risk of reactivation of latent herpes infections, so most doctors prescribe an antiviral medication in the post-operative period.
Laser hair removal works by applying the intense wavelength of laser light to the hair follicle, which destroys it by heating and vaporization. Use of any laser results in tissue destruction, so it’s critical to choose a skilled operator. An alarming trend reported widely in the Journal of the American Medical Association is the use of non-physician operators to perform laser procedures in clinics owned by doctors. Ultimately, the physician bears liability for any malpractice in these cases.
Federal regulations allow anyone to use a laser for skin treatment, and there is no specification in federal law to regulate training or supervision. Most states have regulations, however, but there remains some uncertainty about exactly what is required by law. However, in a series of 174 cases of injury from cosmetic laser treatment, doctors were named as defendants in 146 cases, although they only performed the procedures in 100 instances in the series. Plastic surgeons and dermatologists are most frequently named in laser surgery lawsuits.
Lasers are powerful tools that can cause significant destruction and disfigurement in untrained hands. Patients who file lawsuits have been burned, scarred, or left with permanent skin discoloration. One patient died under general anesthesia during a laser procedure. Another patient died after too much topical anesthetic was used during hair removal. Allegations against the defendants include malpractice and negligence, but also encompass issues like failure to train and supervise staff, failure to provide informed consent or adequate information about potential bad outcomes, and use of the wrong device for the procedure.
If you’ve had a cosmetic laser treatment and it has resulted in scarring, burning, preventable infection, or changes in your skin color, you may have recourse for your injury in some instances. Call us today for a consultation with one of Chicago’s top trial attorneys. We’ll be happy to review your case and advise you on the merits. If you’re considering a laser procedure, be sure to find a trained physician to carry out the treatment in order to minimize your risk of a bad outcome.