Complications associated with laser surgery

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo & Plotkin LLP

As many New York residents know, laser surgery is used extensively in a variety of areas. Both physicians and non-physicians perform laser procedures, and uniform training requirements are lacking on a federal level with regulation left up to individual states. One study in 2013 analyzed the types of skin injuries related to laser surgery through an examination of a legal database.

Laser surgery is used in plastic surgery and dermatological procedures, hair removal, vascular surgery and in other areas. The database, spanning 1985 to 2012, showed hair removal as a top causative factor in cutaneous injury. Overall, the injuries were manifested as burns, scars and changes in the skin’s pigmentation.

Supervision and training of individuals performing laser surgery is the obligation of the physician under whose auspices the procedure is being done. For instance, if a clinician employed by the physician executed the procedure, the physician remains legally responsible for a resulting injury. In the database, of the 174 cases considered in the study, physicians were held liable in 146 cases, although the physician did not execute the procedure in all of them.

The physician’s liability falls under the common doctrine of respondeat superior. Also known as vicarious liability, this principle holds that the physician is responsible for the actions of his or her employee if the activities occurred at work. The physician is obligated to provide both supervision and training for the employee and, in the event of a failure to do so, a medical malpractice case based upon surgical error can be maintained against the physician if an injury results. If an individual is injured while undergoing laser surgery, consulting with an attorney may be beneficial. The attorney may review the client’s case and determine if negligence occurred. If so, a malpractice suit may be filed against the physician in addition to the clinician and, in some cases, the health care facility where the procedure took place.

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