Millions of people seek cosmetic procedures each year, but the lack of strict regulations means that many end up in the hands of unqualified practitioners. 

These patients, trusting in the promise of safe and effective results, are often left to deal with severe complications, disfigurement, and immense psychological trauma. Women, in particular, are disproportionately affected and left to deal with the aftermath with minimal legal recourse.

Plastic Surgery Stories - An Unchecked Cycle of Maiming Women in Florida

A Florida case reported this week by WPBF 25 News involved a botched surgery at a Treasure Coast clinic performing unlicensed procedures. This mirrors another report this week of arguably a far more egregious botched plastic surgery that led to a woman’s death - in a terrible irony, it was the surgeon’s wife. 

This is all part of a growing problem where cosmetic surgeons in Florida operate with little to no accountability for the damage they cause. They thrive in a state that has given them the ability to practice bad medicine while the Board of Medicine turns a blind eye and there is no option for legal recourse. 

Sean C. Domnick, President of the American Association for Justice, and a 30 year medical malpractice lawyer at Domnick Cunningham & Yaffa, in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, is an expert on this issue:

“In Florida, plastic surgeons are not required to carry insurance and have only minimal required financial accountability - which is often illusory. The cost to pursue these cases can exceed $100,000 through trial. Then it can take years and years to pursue the doctor who can simply declare bankruptcy if you get too close.The system is rigged to protect the most negligent at the expense of the most injured.”

This issue needs more attention. How many more stories need to be reported of cosmetic surgery horrors before we shine a light on a root cause and stop blaming the victims? How many of these stories are never told because there is no legal recourse? Our law firm turns down cases on a weekly basis of women who have been disfigured by plastic surgeons operating without insurance. 

By increasing oversight and enforcing stricter licensing requirements, we can better protect those seeking cosmetic procedures. Public awareness is also crucial to help individuals make informed decisions and avoid unlicensed practitioners.

Nicole Kruegel, another Domnick Cunningham & Yaffa medical malpractice lawyer, adds:

“Plastic surgeons often charm women into unnecessary and dangerous procedures that have a high risk of permanent disfigurement, or even death. Every day, women are told that these dangerous procedures are commonplace and easy, but when things go south, these same doctors would rather pretend that nothing is wrong for as long as possible- delaying care that could have minimized the damage instead of holding themselves accountable for the harm they have caused.”

Just last month, Florida House Bill 1561 became law. It enhances regulations for office-based surgeries, with a focus on the Brazilian Butt Lift (BBL). It mandates that medical offices performing significant liposuction or gluteal fat grafting register with the Department of Health (DOH). 

The new law also requires these registered surgery centers to undergo in-person inspections, allowing the DOH to refer unsafe centers to better-equipped facilities. It revises non-compliance penalties to $5,000 per violation instead of per day. It also stipulates that procedures involving significant patient movement, such as turning 180 degrees during liposuction, must be performed in registered surgery centers. 

Yet this new law - again, aimed at the Brazilian Butt Lift - falls far short of what’s actually needed for legislation here as it fails to address the reality that unregulated surgery centers are popping up all over the state. So while the Treasure Coast surgery center highlighted in the WPBF piece has been shut down, the threshold question is whether one, two, or ten will take its place.

All it takes to realize the severity and importance of this is a quick look into the case of the death of Hillary Brown, the wife of Dr. Benjamin Brown, who died as a result of a procedure she did with him.

It’s truly horrific stuff. As the AP reported:

Unsupervised by her husband or any other health care practitioner, Hillary Brown prepared her own local anesthesia and filled intravenous bags for the procedures which included arm liposuction, lip injections and an ear adjustment, according to the Department of Health complaint.

She also ingested several pills, including a sedative, pain killer and antibiotic, before falling into a sedated state, though the consumption of those pills wasn't documented, the complaint said.

A quick glance through the late Hillary Brown’s instagram feed really drives this home in the era of social media. We see the remarkable breach of any proper medical procedure above in the context of a woman who posted pictures of her young children, her husband, babies, sunsets by the beach, and much more.

And none of this is new. These plastic surgery tragedies quickly enter and leave our media feeds and nothing definitive gets done. 

Kanye West's mother, Donda West, died on November 10, 2007, following complications from multiple plastic surgery procedures, including liposuction, a tummy tuck, and a breast reduction. The surgery was performed by Dr. Jan Adams, who had faced previous malpractice suits. An autopsy revealed she died of heart disease combined with complications from the surgery. While there were criticisms regarding post-operative care and her decision to undergo surgery despite pre-existing health conditions, no direct medical malpractice was legally determined in connection to her death.

So as quickly as the story of the plastic surgery death of the mother of arguably the most popular celebrity in the world at the time entered our media feeds, it disappeared. The same will happen with the news stories this week or next month or next year unless a foundational change is made.

Specifically, we need a national standard - if not actual federal legislation - to ensure that unqualified and underqualified people can’t open a plastic surgery clinic and maim women. It’s hard to write or read that but it’s where we are and can no longer be.