Liposuction is one of the most common cosmetic surgery procedures. Patients seek out liposuction as a way to improve their physical appearance by surgically taking out unwanted fat. Unfortunately, lipo is not always performed with the proper standards of medical care.
Medical errors during lipo surgery can cause infection, disfigurement, scarring, serious injury, or even death. Liposuction injuries may be more common than most people realize. Many victims of liposuction errors never come forward because of shame or embarrassment. Doctors often don’t take responsibility for liposuction errors, blaming the problem on the patient.
If you suffered an injury during negligent liposuction procedures, it is important to come forward to hold the doctor accountable for what they did. A medical malpractice lawsuit is also a way for you to get compensation for your injuries.
Contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer for legal advice about your lipo and cosmetic procedure injuries.
What Is Liposuction?
Liposuction is a procedure that removes pockets of fat from the body to improve the proportions and shape of the body. Liposuction, or “lipo,” can be performed in many different areas, including:
- Upper arms
- Waist or flank (love handles)
- Lower legs
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), “Liposuction, also known as lipoplasty, is a surgical procedure that involves the removal of excess fat from specific areas of the body. The procedure is typically used to contour the abdomen, hips, thighs, buttocks and other areas where diet and exercise alone have not been successful.”
The liposuction procedure generally begins with a consultation. A candidate will meet with a representative from the surgical center or practice to get more information and determine if the person is a good candidate for lipo. Ideal candidates may be those who have around 10 to 15 pounds they want to lose, without excess overhanging skin.
During the surgical procedure, the patient will generally be given oral sedation or general anesthesia. After the patient is sedated, the surgeon will perform punch-hole incisions, which are ideally small and discrete. A suction tube cannula is inserted in the hole and moved around to loosen fatty tissue under the skin surface. The suction pulls the excess fat out of the body. The incisions are sealed and the patient is ready for postoperative recovery.
Lipo Recovery and Monitoring
Recovery time depends on the type and extent of the procedures and the individual patient. Most patients go home the same day, with instructions for recovery and when to check back with the doctor. Some patients with more extensive lipo have to stay overnight in the hospital.
The patient is generally wrapped with elastic bandages or compression material to help reduce swelling. There may also be drains to drain fluid around the incisions. Patients generally experience pain and soreness, and may be prescribed pain medication. Patients are generally instructed to rest for the first few days and limit their activity.
For most patients, they will have reduced pain after the first few days but may still feel pain and soreness for a week or two. Many people can go to work but may be advised to continue resting and wearing compression garments. After about 6 weeks, most patients can return to life as normal but there may be some remaining swelling. Full results should be clear after about 3 months.
What Are the Risks of Liposuction?
Doctors may cite the risks or waivers signed by the patient as a way to avoid liability. However, just telling someone about the risks doesn’t clear the doctor if they committed medical malpractice.
Doctors and cosmetic surgery centers often tout the benefits of plastic surgery and liposuction. They claim liposuction can be a great confidence booster and give you a better appearance. However, they may undersell the risks of lipo. Of course, there are complications with any type of surgery, even minor surgery.
Some of the risks of liposuction surgery may include:
- Anesthesia risks
- Loss of sensation in the skin
- Excessive bleeding
- Accumulation of fluid
- Nerve damage
- Muscle damage
- Lung damage
- Blood vessel damage
- Abdominal organ damage
- Excess cellulite
- Tearing skin
- Irregular pigmentation
- Uneven results or asymmetries
Some procedures may produce uneven or poor results. The surgeon may suggest revision surgery. However, revision surgery includes additional risks.
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), in 2020 liposuction was the 4th most popular cosmetic surgical procedure, with more than 211,000 liposuctions performed. This was in 2020, after the COVID-19 pandemic began. In 2019, liposuction rates were 20% higher, at over 265,000. There were an estimated 1.9 million liposuction procedures performed in 2021.
The vast majority of liposuction patients were female (over 188,000), but men are increasingly going in for the procedure. According to the ASPS, the average cost of liposuction is about $3,600. However, this can depend on the region, extent of treatment, and individual practice. Some liposuction providers start at about $8,000.
Post-COVID, liposuction has become the most popular surgical cosmetic procedure. According to an article by the ASPS, cosmetic surgery surged after the pandemic, particularly among women under 45. About 30% of surgeons have reported their business has at least doubled.
Possible reasons for the increase are weight gain from staying at home during COVID and seeing ourselves on camera more often for remote meetings. Liposuction is also a common add-on procedure for tummy tucks, Brazilian butt lifts, mommy makeovers, and body lifts.
Liposuction and Medical Tourism
With the high cost of healthcare in the U.S., many people are traveling overseas for their procedures. Medical tourism can save a lot of money and may even include a vacation. However, when things go wrong, you may have fewer options for justice.
Some of the most common international destinations for cosmetic surgery like liposuction include:
According to the State Department, “Between 150,000 and 320,000 U.S. citizens travel abroad for medical care each year. Medical tourism includes cosmetic surgery, dentistry, and other surgery procedures.” Make sure you understand the risks of liposuction and other cosmetic procedures done in other countries.
Training and Qualifications for Licensed Cosmetic Surgeons
Liposuction can be done by any licensed physician. Most patients seek out a qualified plastic surgeon, with specialized training and education to be a board-certified cosmetic surgeon. Cosmetic surgeons are regular doctors (MD or DO) with additional residency training in general surgery and plastic surgery.
Plastic surgery licensing is under the authority of the American Board of Plastic Surgery. There are more than 7,600 board-certified plastic surgeons in active practice as of 2023. Prerequisite training includes 5 progressive years of clinical general surgery residency training. The board also requires a minimum of 3 years of plastic surgery training and 6 years for integrated programs.
Medical Spa Non-Licensed Employees Providing Treatment
Non-doctors can perform some non-surgical medical spa procedures, like non-surgical liposuction. However, non-surgical liposuction is not like regular lipo. Training for nonsurgical lipo may only be a few hours of learning. Unfortunately, some negligent or reckless surgical spas have unqualified employees providing treatment that should be handled by a trained medical professional.
What Can Go Wrong During Liposuction?
There are a lot of things that can go wrong during any surgery. Someone on the surgical team could make an error during surgery or mistakes could be made before surgery. Even after surgery, patients should be properly monitored to make sure they are safe. Potential problems involving liposuction can include:
- Surgical site infections
- Wrong-patient surgery
- Wrong-procedure surgery
- Puncture injuries
- Anesthesia errors
- Lack of informed consent
- Foreign object retention
- Lack of patient monitoring and follow-up
Medical Errors and Lipo Procedures
Liposuction is an invasive surgery. Just because it is usually an in-patient procedure does not mean that it is always safe. Not all risks are considered medical malpractice. Risks are possible effects of the surgery that the doctor may not be able to control. However, when a doctor fails to follow the standards of medical practice and causes an injury, it can be medical malpractice.
To prove medical malpractice, the patient has to prove the following elements:
- The plastic surgeon owed a duty of care to the patient;
- The plastic surgeon deviated from medical standards;
- The doctor’s actions caused the patient’s injuries; and
- The patient suffered harm as a result.
For example, if standard medical practices require surgical sanitation and handwashing before treatment, a qualified surgeon should follow those standards. If a surgeon didn’t wash their hands and the patient suffered an infection that caused tissue damage, the infection injury may have been caused by medical malpractice.
For some patients and procedures, surgeons can use oral sedation so the patient can recover more quickly. For other patients, general anesthesia is performed by a doctor or anesthesiologist to sedate and immobilize the patient. General anesthesia allows the patient to not feel pain during the surgery.
General anesthesia often involves intravenous drugs or gas to put the patient “under.” Anesthesia involves very powerful drugs that have the power to stop a patient’s breathing or even stop their heart. Too little anesthesia can leave the patient awake during the painful procedure. However, too much anesthesia can cause cardiac arrest and be fatal.
Other anesthesia errors can involve adverse drug reactions, intubation injuries, or failure to properly monitor a patient’s vital signs. Many liposuction procedures are handled in clinics or private offices, where there is no attached hospital and the facility doesn’t have a “crash cart.” This means when a patient has a medical emergency, the surgeon may have to call 9-1-1 and wait for emergency medicine providers to arrive.
Surgical Site Infections
When a patient is opened up during surgery, their tissue is vulnerable to bacterial and viral infections. Infection can be introduced by improper hand washing, contaminated surgical material, unsterilized surgical tools, or failure to follow surgical guidelines. Surgical site infections can cause:
- Tissue damage
- Infection shock
There are risks of excessive blood loss in liposuction surgery for some patients. This should be considered before a doctor agrees to perform the procedure on patients with certain medical conditions. However, some patients who have a high risk of bleeding are still operated on by doctors, putting the patient at risk. Types of bleeding disorders may include:
- Disseminated intravascular coagulation
- Liposuction trauma
- Occult hemorrhage
Lack of Informed Consent
Doctors are supposed to get the patient’s informed consent before undergoing a medical procedure, including liposuction. If the patient doesn’t know the risks and benefits of treatment, they can’t make an informed decision about their care. Unfortunately, some plastic surgery clinics rush patients and brush over the risks and side effects, without making sure the patient really understands. Informed consent includes:
- Side effects
- Possible complications
- Reasonable alternatives
Defective Liposuction Packs
In some cases, it is not the doctor who causes the damage but the equipment used. Some medical materials and devices can be defective, presenting a risk of harm to the patient. Defective medical devices can include implants, artificial joints, catheters, and medications. For example, a series of general surgery tray products known as liposuctions were recalled because of safety concerns.
A defective medical device claim is a type of product liability case. For product liability lawsuits, the injury victim does not have to prove medical negligence. Instead, these are strict liability cases where the manufacturer may be liable for damages caused by design defects, manufacturing defects, or warning defects.
Liposuction Pack Recalls
In 2014, Customed initiated a recall for Liposuction Packs, which are “used by medical staff to perform patient care procedures such as wound healing, suture removals, irrigate wounds, etc.” The defective products were recalled because of packaging concerns, including “significant compromised sterility, not limited to potentially damaged packaging. Serious deficiencies in the manufacturing processes and uncontrolled and inadequate storage conditions increase the risk of contamination and may result in patient infection.”
Recovering Compensation After Liposuction Malpractice
Victims of medical malpractice can recover compensation in a lawsuit. Damages in a medical malpractice claim can include medical bills, lost wages, the cost of follow-up corrective surgeries, pain and suffering, and emotional distress. Talk to a medical malpractice attorney about how much financial compensation you can receive in a liposuction injury settlement.
Experienced medical malpractice lawyers, like the trial attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian, have extensive experience in cosmetic surgery malpractice injuries because they focus on just these types of cases. With the right legal team on your side, you will have the resources to help you recover damages after suffering a liposuction injury. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.