Breast implants refer to a prosthesis which is used to change the size, shape, and/or contour of a person’s breast. Breast implant surgery may also be referred to as breast augmentation, mammoplasty enlargement, and breast enlargement. Such surgical procedures may be done for cosmetic or reconstruction purposes.
In terms of reconstructive plastic surgery, breast implants may be used to restore a natural-looking breast following a mastectomy. Additionally, it may be used to correct congenital defects as well as deformities of the chest wall. Some breast implant surgeries involve the removal of implants that were previously placed in the person.
The actual, physical implants can be either silicone or saline. Each type of implant has its pros and cons in terms of safety and efficacy. A skilled surgeon will be able to educate prospective surgery candidates as to which type of implant is best suited for their body and their needs.
What Are Some Common Injuries Caused by Breast Implants?
As with any other plastic surgery procedures, breast implant surgeries may be associated with several serious health issues. Silicone fluid implants specifically have been linked to leakage, while polyurethane-covered implants have been linked to breast cancer. Some risks of breast implant surgery include:
- Rupture of the implant;
- Incorrect placement or positioning of the implant;
- Incorrect stitching or healing of the incisions; and/or
- Cosmetic errors, including accidental implantation of the wrong size, or unevenly matched implants such as the left one being a different size or shape from the right. These types of errors can result in additional surgeries in order to fix or under the issues.
Nine common injuries associated with breast implants are:
- Fibrous Capsular Contracture: The formation of fibrous capsules around the implant. These can cause pain and firmness;
- Calcification: Calcification occurs when the living tissue around the implants stiffens due to calcium salts;
- Silicone Gel Leakage and Migration: The gel that forms silicone implants can migrate to the lymph nodes, and may migrate as far as the abdomen;
- Infection: A common side effect of any surgical procedure;
- Interference with Mammograms: Depending on the placement of the implants, they may interfere with mammograms. This could make it more difficult for doctors to accurately diagnose breast cancer;
- Degradation: Polyurethane foam-covered breast implants have been linked to cancer. Because of this, they have been pulled from U.S. markets. However, around 200,000 people still have this type of implant;
- Human Carcinogenicity: Because breast implants are a foreign substance, they may increase the chance of breast cancer due to the human body’s reaction to foreign substances;
- Human Teratogenicity: It has been claimed that the presence of silicone causes fetal injuries; and
- Immune Disorders: The presence of silicone in the body has been linked to altering the body’s natural antigens that fight foreign cells. Meaning, they begin to attack its own cells, causing autoimmune disorders.
Some cases may involve multiple injuries which stem from the same implant. Additionally, symptoms may not appear until later, such as after the implant procedure. Some breast implant injuries can lead to long-term medical conditions as well as further complications with other conditions.
What Can I Do If My Implants are Defective?
If your doctor made a mistake during implant surgery which resulted in one of the injuries listed above, you may be able to recover for medical malpractice. Or, if the implant itself was defective, you may be able to take part in a defective product class action lawsuit. Similar to other types of defective product claims, defective breast implants can fall into three main categories:
- Manufacturing Defects: Manufacturing defects typically occur during the assembly or production phase of the product’s development. An example of this would be when a breast implant product is manufactured in such a way that the product is more likely to degrade after implanting it. The manufacturer might face liability if the defect causes injuries;
- Design Defects: Design defects are errors involving the way that the breast implant product is designed. An example of this would be if a breast implant product is designed using materials that are sub-quality, or are prone to leakage. This might lead to a defective product claim; and
- Warning Defects: Warning defects involve the safety and warning information that accompanies the product. If the manufacturer fails to include proper safety warnings, or if the warnings are not visible or easy to read, they could face legal liability in connection with the defect.
Products considered to be dangerous may be subject to a nationwide product recall. Retailers, distributors, hospitals, and other organizations are alerted to the dangers associated with the product. They will be required to stop using or selling the product. Should they continue to do so after a recall has been issued, they could also face liability for their negligence.
What Is Needed to Prove Medical Malpractice?
In terms of a breast implant lawsuit, the physician nearly always owes a duty of care to the patient. The standard for this duty of care will generally be the standards held for a surgeon of similar experience, background, and training. The breach of this duty may take many forms, such as:
- Failing to follow proper cleanliness and sanitation procedures;
- Failure to remove sponges, bandages, or other items from the patient’s body after the procedure;
- Medication or anaesthesia errors; and/or
- Errors regarding follow-up treatments and procedures.
To prove medical malpractice, several elements must be met. These elements are generally the same as those required in proving a negligence claim:
- Duty of Care: In most cases, the duty of care is simply the same medical professional standards that a doctor with similar training and background would be held to;
- Breach of Duty: A common example of such a breach of duty occurs when the medical professional fails to follow proper sanitation procedures prior to a breast implant procedure;
- Causation: The breach of duty must be the actual, direct cause of the injury; and
- Damages: The breach of duty must also result in quantifiable damages to the patient.
The damages award may cover expenses such as:
- Additional medical costs;
- Costs of surgery or rehabilitation;
- Pain and suffering damages;
- Scarring and disfigurement damages; and/or
- Various other quantifiable losses.
Some states place limits on the amount of damages that may be recovered in a medical malpractice lawsuit. It is important to check the laws of your state and find out if your lawsuit will have limits for recovery.
Who Can Be Held Liable for a Breast Implant Injury?
Parties that may be held liable for a breast implant injury will typically depend on the nature of the injury. This means that if the injury was caused by defective implants, the manufacturer may be held liable; alternatively, if the injury was the result of medical malpractice, the surgeon and/or the hospital may be found liable. Liability will also be influenced by whether the surgeon is considered an employee of the hospital, or a contractor.
Are There any Defenses Available in a Breast Implant Injury Lawsuit?
Defenses to a breast implant injury lawsuit will vary based on the specifics of each situation. Generally speaking, the following defenses could apply in terms of a medical malpractice claim:
- Rejection of expert testimony;
- Absence of causation;
- Contributory negligence; or
- Comparative and/or modified comparative negligence.
Some of the more frequently used defenses against a products liability claim include the following:
- Unforeseeable usage;
- Assumption of risk; or
- Substantial changes.
Do I Need an Attorney for Help with My Breast Implant Injury?
Hiring lawyers for breast implant lawsuits can be beneficial to those who have suffered a breast implant injury. A skilled and knowledgeable personal injury attorney can help you determine who may be liable for your injuries, as well as how to proceed in taking legal action against them. An experienced attorney will represent you in court and work towards a damages award suitable for your specific needs.