The term “abdominoplasty surgery” may sound foreign, but most people simply refer to it as a “tummy tuck.” This procedure is considered major surgery with considerable side effects, and a plastic surgeon typically performs it. Many things have the potential to go wrong because of how this surgical procedure is performed. If someone were to be injured as a result of a tummy tuck surgery, it could lead to a claim of medical malpractice. However, the best way to know for sure is to seek the advice of an experienced attorney. He or she will be able to investigate if any type of medical negligence occurred that led to the injury. If so, then a medical malpractice lawsuit is the best course of action.
What Goes Into the Tummy Tuck Procedure?
During this procedure, a plastic surgeon will remove excess fat and loose skin from the abdominal area of the body. From there, the abdominal muscles are tightened, and the surgical site is closed. Some people choose to have liposuction while the doctor is already in there, but it is not a traditional part of the procedure. This is not a way to lose weight. Instead, this procedure is for people who were once very heavy and have achieved large amounts of weight loss or women who have had multiple children and now have loose skin.
There are two main types of abdominoplasty — full and partial.
- In the full procedure, the surgeon cuts open the stomach from one hip bone to the other. The skin is moved, including the belly button, and contours are put in place before the site is closed. Many people require tubes to drain excess fluids for several days following the procedure.
- The partial procedure is just a minor cut that does not involve moving the belly button. This is just meant to remove a small bit of fat or loose skin that is below the navel. These procedures only take a fraction of the time a full procedure would take, and drainage tubes are rarely necessary.
There will be a scar left behind after the surgery, but how long or visible depends on how well the plastic surgery went.
What Can Go Wrong with This Type of Procedure to Lead to Medical Malpractice?
Removing fat or skin from the tummy may sound simple enough, but there are a lot of problems that could come up from this procedure. If an experienced plastic surgeon does not do the surgery, the potential risks go even higher. Here are just a few things that could happen as a result of a botched tummy tuck:
- Needing a New Belly Button. During the full procedure, the belly button must be moved. If it is cut off from its blood supply for any period, the tissue could die, and a new belly button would then need to be created for the patient.
- Excessive Swelling. There is going to be extensive swelling with this type of procedure, especially if the full procedure is completed. The swelling can increase the pain that someone goes through or pull out stitches if it gets big enough. It could also result in disfigurement of the abdominal area.
- Post-op Infection. Infections that come up after the operation are called “post-op infections.” They can be incredibly dangerous since the whole area is tender and freshly cut open. The patient could develop sepsis, gangrene, or even a staph infection.
- Internal Bleeding. If the wrong cut is made during plastic surgery, it could damage internal organs, which could put the patient’s life at risk. Any type of internal bleeding can also lead to the patient bleeding out, which would result in death.
- Dying Tissue. If plastic surgery goes awry, the tissue can become necrotic. This is when the tissue dies, and the infections that can stem from necrotic tissue are harsh.
- Too Much Anesthesia. If too much anesthesia is used, it can be difficult for the patient to wake up when the procedure is complete. While general or local anesthesia are both options, one might not always be the best choice for a certain patient. This is where taking a proper medical history can come into play.
- Nerve Damage. Many people lose some feeling along the incision line. This is because the skin was cut. However, as wound healing occurs, the sensation should return to the area. If it does not, the area may permanently be numb, so great care has to be taken to never injure that area because the person would not feel it.
- Pain Med Addiction. After nearly all plastic surgery procedures, the doctor will prescribe medication as a standard course of treatment to ease any pain or discomfort the injured party is feeling. If the person is not careful, he or she could become reliant on those medications even after the pain of surgery has faded.
- Blood Clots. After any type of surgery, blood clots form. This is the body’s way of healing. However, after major surgery, there are more clots. Those clots can break off and get caught in the heart, leading to heart failure, or in the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism.
What Does the Court Need to See in Medical Malpractice Cases?
When medical malpractice stems from cosmetic surgery, the court is going to want to be able to see how the patient electing to have surgery leads to the injured party getting compensation. This has to be done using evidence. Here are the things the injured party needs to prove to the court:
- Duty of Care: This means that the physician or medical staff member who is accused of causing the injury had the duty to care for the patient in some way prior to the injury taking place.
- Standard of Care: This means the level of care the injured party had every right to expect would be provided given the circumstances at the time of treatment. If any other medical professional had properly cared for the patient, the level of care would have been the same as what was expected.
- Wrong Level of Care: This is when the injured party must prove that the accused did not live up to the standard of care established for the circumstances. This goes to show that the care was lower than was reasonable to expect.
- Causation: This is where the injured party must prove that the accused’s lack of care caused the injury. It is not enough to prove that an injury occurred. There has to be proof that the injury was the result of negligence on the part of the accused.
From there, the court is going to want to see that the injuries were enough to warrant some type of compensation as a result. If the injury was minor, most courts would not provide compensation. However, when personal injury is significant, there are ways of proving that compensation is the way to ease the recovery process.
Getting Damages from a Medical Malpractice Suit
If all these things can be proven in court, then the next step is to determine the damages that should be awarded. There are damages to cover the expenses that are the result of the injury, and there are damages to cover how the injury altered the injured party’s emotions. Here is the breakdown.
Monetary damages include things like:
- Real medical expenses covering bills from the injury and anything necessary for recovery. This can include medical equipment, therapy sessions, prescriptions, and specialized hospital stays
- Lost wages for current jobs and future jobs if the injured party is unable to return to the same job or type of job again in the future
- Travel expenses for getting to and from doctor’s appointments or therapy sessions
Noneconomic damages include things like:
- Pain and suffering from the injury itself or the worry of how the injury is going to affect the life of the injured party or his or her family
- Funeral costs in a wrongful death lawsuit
- Anguish over how the injury has affected the injured party’s life
- Stress over the loss of normalcy in the injured party’s life. This can include loss of companionship, consortium, or guidance, depending on what type of case the lawyer files
- Money to help recover some of the reduced quality of life the injured party may be faced with as a result of the injury
There may also be the option for punitive damages if the plastic surgeon fraudulently concealed the injury or in some way tried to keep the patient from finding out about it. The case could also result in punitive damages if the accused was intentional in the harm caused to the injured party.
Is an Attorney Necessary When Filing a Claim of Medical Malpractice?
It is not necessary to have a medical malpractice attorney. However, it is vital to the success of the case to have one. People are legally allowed to represent themselves in court. It is just not wise without proper education and training. Since many attorneys work on contingency, it is wise to at least call around to speak with a few before deciding how to proceed. Here are a few questions that can help the injured party locate a quality attorney to file the case for him or her:
- Does the attorney work on his or her own, or is the attorney part of a larger law firm? Is the specialty in medical malpractice or another area?
- How much experience does the attorney have with issues that result from a tummy tuck?
- Does the case have merit from what the attorney can gather from early evidence? If not, what may be missing?
- What sort of time limits do malpractice claims have? Is this still within those time limits?
- Has the attorney ever filed a case against this health care professional in the past? What was the outcome?
- What fees will the injured party need to pay to file the case, and when are those fees due?
- How long does the attorney estimate the case would take?
- Does the attorney believe there would be a trial or a settlement, and what type of settlement does the attorney estimate would be realistic based on the injury?
An attorney usually offers a free consultation so the injured party can speak with him or her before actually agreeing to hire the attorney. However, the injured party must understand what an attorney could do for his or her case.
Attorneys know how to behave in court, which most laypeople do not. They know when to object and when to let testimony continue. They know what types of evidence work best to convince a judge and jury of wrongdoing. It is the attorney’s job to know how to communicate with regular people in a way that makes sense to them. This is not a skill many people can master without training and experience in the field.
An attorney is also going to be able to show the judge and jury what happened without getting overly emotional. While being emotional is normal and expected of the injured party, it does not have a place in the courtroom. This gives attorneys an edge. Attorneys are also well-versed in how to communicate with insurance companies when settlement offers arrive. The injured party may jump at any opportunity to get paid, even if it is a low settlement. On the other hand, an attorney knows to hold out and wait for the right amount.
Having plastic surgery of any kind puts the body at risk. A tummy tuck is just one cosmetic procedure that puts the body under much strain. With the chance of so many things going wrong, malpractice is a natural consequence. Never let the mistake of a medical professional stop life in its tracks. Get an experienced attorney to help try the case and go after the deserved compensation. A medical mistake can reduce someone’s quality of life, but it does not have the right to make life miserable.