plastic surgery

In this guide to plastic surgery and medical malpractice, we investigate how common it is for plastic surgery to go wrong. 

We also discuss what constitutes malpractice, examples of South African cases and, if you’re a victim, how to pursue a claim for compensation.

Some plastic surgeries are undertaken for cosmetic reasons, to enhance physical appearance or change the things people don’t like about their faces or bodies.

Other plastic surgeries are crucial for reconstruction and restoration after injuries, fixing of congenital defects such as cleft palate or even the treatment of burns.

Whether it’s cosmetic or reconstructive, plastic surgery can go wrong.

It can end up leaving scars and deformities that negatively affect patients for the rest of their lives.

Below we cover:

If you may have a valid medical negligence claim against a doctor, hospital or other healthcare provider in South Africa, contact us at DSC Attorneys for expert legal advice and representation.

Plastic surgery and medical malpractice claims

All surgery carries an inherent risk. In other words, not all negative outcomes are considered a result of malpractice.

Sometimes, however, negligence by medical staff is clearly the cause of a botched cosmetic or reconstructive surgery. In these cases, the victims can pursue medical malpractice claims. This applies regardless of whether the surgeries were elective.

International study on the incidence of malpractice in plastic surgery

Studies over a ten-year period by a leading malpractice insurance company in the United States revealed that 29% of plastic surgery malpractice claimants were not satisfied with the results of their procedure.

Also, 14% of claimants came away from their surgeries with scar deformities.

Some other findings from the study:

  • 14% of claims were for emotional distress
  • asymmetry, death and burns made up 5% of the claims
  • chronic pain was alleged in 3% of the claims
  • infection was the basis for claiming in 14% of the cases
  • localized and mass swelling attributed to 2% of the cases
  • and allergy, DVT, PE, and foreign bodies made up only 1% of claims.

Liposuction and medical malpractice worldwide

Liposuction, in particular, has an alarmingly high death and complication rate. This may be because it’s too often treated as a routine procedure, rather than the complicated and invasive procedure that it is.

A report from the United States pinned the mortality rate for liposuction at 1 in every 5000, compared to the general rate for other surgical procedures of just 1 in 100,000.

Examples of medical malpractice cases involving plastic surgery in South Africa

There have been a number of successful claims against plastic surgeons in South Africa.

Most recently, a 2023 Mail & Guardian article warned against the potential for botched “Brazilian butt lift”, or BBL, surgeries.

We detail other well-known South African examples of plastic surgery and medical malpractice below.

The Butcher of Benoni: botched cosmetic surgeries

In 2020, Luke Gordon – a plastic and reconstructive surgeon infamously dubbed the Butcher of Benoni – was finally struck off the roll. An attorney noted having more than 50 clients who complained about the surgeon.

One of the victims, Heugene Murray, had to have his leg amputated after a faulty calf implant.

Several women who paid for breast reconstructions suffered extensive scarring and deformity.

In total, it’s estimated that Gordon paid about R4.5 million to patients whose cosmetic surgeries he botched. Tanya Haumann, for example, sued the surgeon after a badly botched breast reduction surgery and was awarded R750,000.

Luke Gordon was finally deregistered after a group of 14 complainants came forward. The Health Professions Council of South Africa found him guilty of unprofessional conduct on nine of the 14 counts.

Defective breast implants in South Africa

Along with hundreds of thousands of women around the world, as many as 300 South African women were affected after plastic surgeons performed their breast augmentations using defective silicone breast implants, supplied by French company, Poly Implant Prothèse (PIP).

The implants leaked and, even worse, were found to contain industrial-grade mattress silicone – a potential carcinogen.

The faulty implants led to multiple class actions around the globe, with South Africans among those who were compensated.

The first faulty implants were used in 2010. Today, cases of rupturing implants supplied by PIP are still continuing to emerge.

Fatality due to botched liposuction

An alarming case involved a woman who died as a result of negligence after liposuction surgery in 2001.

It was alleged that Dr Jan van Almenkerk failed to react in a reasonable manner when she became ill after the procedure, despite concerns being raised by her family members. The doctor was found guilty of culpable homicide and fined R240,000.

Another notorious plastic surgeon in South Africa

Another notorious South African plastic surgeon, Dr Hennie Roos, faced 28 complaints between 1994 and 1998. One complainant was awarded R692,000 after a face and forehead lift performed by Dr Roos resulted in bad scarring.

Types of plastic surgery complications that can be grounds for a malpractice claim

Plastic surgery complications or injuries that could be grounds for pursuing a medical malpractice claim include, among others:

  • infection caused by the surgery or procedure
  • scarring caused by the surgery
  • complications from the anaesthesia
  • nerve damage or loss of mobility
  • death.

Who may be liable for plastic surgery malpractice

Victims of plastic surgery malpractice may be able to claim compensation from the doctor who performed the procedure, other medical professionals who assisted and/or the relevant hospital or medical facility.

What’s needed for a successful claim

For a claim to be successful, sufficient evidence of negligence must be provided.

For example, negligence could take the form of:

  • failure to properly explain risks or to get informed consent from the patient
  • errors during diagnosis or treatment
  • clerical errors resulting in improper treatment
  • poor health management before, during and/or after the procedure
  • improper monitoring and/or early discharge.
  • If you believe you have grounds for a medical negligence claim, you have the right to access your own medical records, charts and information.

Medical malpractice cases are complex and can take years to resolve. It’s vital to build a strong case and to have sound legal representation and support, as well as expert medical testimony.


Plastic surgery and medical malpractice claims with DSC Attorneys

At DSC Attorneys, our attorneys and medico-legal team have extensive experience in handling medical malpractice claims.

We can assess your claim, send you for any necessary medical examinations, help prepare supporting evidence and represent you in legal proceedings, giving you the best chance of receiving the compensation you deserve.

We also work on a no win, no fee basis. Contact us for more information or to discuss your medical malpractice claim.

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