If you've thought about having cosmetic surgery, you're not alone. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, there were nearly 1.5 million cosmetic surgeries done in 2022. So-called "noninvasive" or "minimally invasive" procedures were in even greater demand, with more than 23.6 million completed that year.
Cosmetic procedures are generally considered to be routine, so much so that many are done in a doctor's office or an outpatient surgery center. This relaxed, low-key approach makes it easy to forget that cosmetic surgery can involve risks, some of them quite serious.
We'll explain what cosmetic surgery is and describe some of the most popular cosmetic procedures. After a quick review of medical malpractice generally, we'll explore the risks of cosmetic surgery, including the kinds of errors that can give rise to a malpractice claim.
A cosmetic procedure is an elective surgical or nonsurgical procedure that's done solely or primarily to improve the patient's physical appearance. Cosmetic procedures include traditional cosmetic surgery, along with an increasing number of noninvasive or minimally invasive procedures like dermabrasion, injections, and fillers that offer temporary improvements in appearance without the expense or inconvenience of cosmetic surgery.
Cosmetic surgery, a subset of plastic surgery, shouldn't be confused with a second subset of plastic surgery called reconstructive surgery. Reconstructive surgery is concerned with repairing damage or defects of the face and body brought on by injury, illness, or genetics. While reconstructive surgery often restores form, the primary concern is usually restoration of normal or useful function.
These were the five most popular cosmetic surgical procedures in 2022.
Here were the top five minimally invasive cosmetic procedures in 2022.
The National Library of Medicine has more information about these and other cosmetic procedures.
The elements of a malpractice claim for a botched cosmetic surgery are the same as the elements of any surgical malpractice case. Specifically, you'll need to prove that:
The standard of care tells us how careful your doctor should have been while treating you. It requires that your doctor act with at least the same level of care as a reasonably careful, similarly trained and experienced cosmetic physician would have exercised under the circumstances.
Once you've shown how careful your doctor should have been, you'll have to prove how your doctor failed to meet the standard of care. What did your doctor do, or fail to do, that a reasonably careful, similarly trained doctor would have done while caring for you? You must identify specific acts (or failures to act) that fell below the applicable standard.
The final two elements—injury and causation—can be challenging in a cosmetic surgery case. All surgeries involve some risk. The same is true for nonsurgical, noninvasive, or minimally invasive procedures.
When you check in on the day of your appointment, you'll have to sign an informed consent form that describes the known, likely risks of the procedure you're having done. Your doctor won't be on the hook for medical malpractice simply because one of those risks comes to pass. It isn't malpractice unless your injury happens because of a failure to meet the standard of care.
In almost any malpractice case, you'll need a qualified medical expert to testify regarding:
Most states have rigorous requirements for medical experts. To be allowed to testify, your expert must have medical credentials—education, training, and experience—similar to those of your treating doctor. If your doctor is board-certified in a medical specialty, the expert must have the same board certification.
Common injuries stemming from cosmetic procedures include:
Swelling and bruising are common side effects of cosmetic surgeries, but these are known risks and usually aren't permanent.
Is being unhappy with the outcome of your procedure an injury for which you can sue? Usually not, unless it's tied to some breach of the standard of care by your doctor. Some jurors will assume that you're simply dissatisfied with the results of your procedure even if there was actual malpractice. This juror bias can be a challenge in cosmetic surgery malpractice cases.
Every state has a time deadline, called a "statute of limitations," on filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in court. While there might be a few exceptions, typically you've got a year or two from the date of the malpractice to file your case. If you try to file after the limitation deadline has passed, the court will have no choice but to dismiss your case.
Several states have enacted special procedural "hoops" you must jump through when you file a medical malpractice lawsuit. For example, you might need to file a sworn affidavit or "certificate of merit" from a qualified expert witness along with your lawsuit. In other states, you'll need to have your case reviewed by a malpractice review panel before you can sue.
Finally, be aware that many states have enacted limits, or "caps," on the damages you can collect in a medical malpractice case. If you live in a cap state, this damage limitation can significantly reduce the value of your claim.
As a rule, medical malpractice cases are technically and legally complicated, and they're notoriously difficult to win. They settle less often than other personal injury cases, and malpractice lawsuits that go to trial are more likely to end in a verdict for the doctor or hospital.
You need an experienced medical malpractice lawyer—one who's familiar with cosmetic surgery malpractice cases—on your side. Without expert legal help, you stand little chance of succeeding with your case.
If you're ready to move forward with your claim, here's how to find a malpractice lawyer in your area.