/ 4 April 2023

Botched Brazilian butt lift – can the law protect you?

Patients seeking the trendy ‘hour-glass’ shape should also fully understand that if something goes wrong, medical malpractice cases can be lengthy and strenuous. (Getty Images)

The Brazilian butt lift (BBL) era is upon us. BBL surgery is becoming an increasingly popular cosmetic procedure. 

BBl is a medical procedure in which a doctor transfers fat from a person’s abdomen, hips, lower back, or thighs to the buttocks. The result is more of an hourglass-shaped figure, with larger buttocks and sometimes a smaller waist if the fat comes from the abdomen or lower back. The surgery combines liposuction and fat grafting to add volume and definition to curves and to lift the buttocks. Like any other surgery, it is not guaranteed that the surgery will come out as required.

Botched plastic surgery results are an unfortunate reality in the cosmetic surgery industry. With the growing popularity of elective surgery like BBL, there are hundreds of surgeons to choose from, who all want business. Patients may be convinced to undergo surgery they were not 100% committed to or one that is restricted due to budget or time. 

There are a few common signs that show a botched plastic surgery result — one is an unevenness in body contour and shape. Cosmetic surgeons require more than just the technical knowledge of surgery, but also an artistic knowledge of the human body.

In the case of BBL, the two ways in which the surgery can be botched are the dreaded “diaper booty”, also known as a droopy derriere, which happens when too much fat is added into the buttocks and the body can’t hold it up, so it falls. The second is called “ant booty”, which is when the BBL looks like it was stuck on the patient’s body, doesn’t flow with the thighs or doesn’t look like it belongs to the person’s frame or foundation. 

However, BBL may even cause death due to risks associated with the intramuscular fat-grafting technique. This technique can lead to fat existing within and beneath the gluteal muscles, and massive fat emboli developing, which can both be fatal.

Although all surgery carries an inherent risk, whether it’s elective or not, when the cause of a botched BBL surgery is clearly due to the negligence of the medical practitioners, the patient can pursue a medical malpractice claim. 

The basis for this is that a botched BBL can end up leaving scars and deformities that negatively affect patients for the rest of their lives. There are many grounds for BBL patients to sue the surgeon for medical malpractice, including, infection caused by the surgery or procedure, scarring caused by the surgery, death (loved ones may sue), nerve damage, complications from the anaesthesia and loss of mobility.

These BBL medical malpractice claims can be directed against the surgeon who performed the procedure, other medical professionals who assisted or even the hospital or medical facility involved. The patient would have to show that the party in question was negligent during the surgical procedure. 

Some examples of negligence include errors during diagnosis or treatment, clerical errors resulting in improper treatment, poor health management before, during and after the procedure, early discharge or failure to get informed consent from the patient, and so forth. If there are valid grounds to believe that a patient has a botched BBL that warrants a medical negligence claim, patients have the right to look at their own medical records, charts and information in order to prepare their case.

Medical malpractice is the best way for a BBL patient to claim recourse for a botched or harmful surgery. These claims are often difficult and complicated with several elements that must be proven in court. 

Factors that usually provide for a valid case in a lawsuit when surgery is involved is when there are materials left behind inside a person or that have damaged the patient’s system, being scarred due to the surgery, anaesthesia inconsistencies or issues and additional or extensive pain after the procedure has been completed may all be considered medical malpractice. 

Additional problems that have been parts of claims also include when consent has not been provided by the patient with information about the process and what it entails, having surgery completed at the wrong location or on the incorrect person, a failure of obtained medical history of the individual, medicine or dosage errors and similar matters may all assist in plastic surgery suits against the physician or healthcare facility. These claims can go beyond just claiming for the physical problems, and can extend to claiming for emotional stress caused by the botched surgery.

BBL patients ought to fully understand that medical malpractice cases can be lengthy and strenuous, so it’s important to make sure you have a strong case and sufficient legal representation and support. However, that is not to say that there has never been any successful cases in South Africa. 

According to DSC Attorneys, there have been a number of successful claims against plastic surgeons in South Africa. One involved Dr Hennie Roos, who is a plastic surgeon who faced 26 complaints between 1994 and 1998. One complainant was awarded R692 000 after a face and forehead lift performed by Roos resulted in bad scarring. 

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

Karabo Mokgonyana is a legal and development practitioner and programme director for the Sesi Fellowship and Skill Hub.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.