A beauty salon customer left with facial skin depigmentation and dimpling after a seemingly ‘very safe and non-invasive’ treatment has been awarded nearly $25,000 and costs in a recent case brought before the state’s District Court. How was this medical negligence claim resolved?
Background of the case
The plaintiff attended a beauty salon in Sydney, NSW to receive a cosmetic facial treatment procedure described as ‘skin lifting by ultrasound technology’, designed to reduce wrinkles and improve brightness. The procedure begins with a numbing cream applied to the face and then consists of low-level heat energy from an ultrasound device bathing the face.
As a consequence, the plaintiff suffered skin burning, blistering and lumpiness, as well as depigmentation. This caused her distress and embarrassment, which led to her claim for compensation. This is because she claimed that she had not been appropriately informed of the nature and extent of the risks associated with that treatment.
The procedure was performed by a trained employee to reduce the risk of complications. The defendant claims the risks arising from the treatment were inherent, and that the ultrasound process explained to the plaintiff beforehand.
The issues at play in this case
The Court had to make decisions on a number of issues in this case, including:
- The relevant risk of harm posed by the treatment;
- The nature of the duty of care owed to the plaintiff;
- Whether the injuries suffered were part of the treatment’s ‘inherent risks’, as described by the defendant.
Following deliberation, the Court found:
- The relevant risks of harm were permanent cosmetic blemishes and scarring to the face. These were identified by the plaintiff’s treating doctor, and backed by relevant scientific research from various reports;
- The Civil Liability Act 2002 mandates that businesses owe customers a duty of care to explain any inherent risks of goods or services traded onsite. Given the plaintiff was a paying customer, the beauty salon owed her a duty of care to explain any potential complications which could arise from ultrasound treatment;
- The Court agreed that more minor consequences of the woman’s treatment (such as facial redness and lumpiness) could be seen as inherent risks. However, they countered that the beauty salon had failed to describe these risks in any detail to the plaintiff anyway.
As such, the plaintiff was awarded damages for the adverse physical and cosmetic consequences of the beauty treatment, as well as out-of-pocket expenses for purchasing make up to hide the depigmentation on parts of her face.
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