Blame the Victim

First Known Plastic Surgery, 1917

Sometimes I am dumbfounded by the reaction some people have to an event compared to the event itself.

A case in point was the public reaction to a recent jury verdict out of Virginia Beach.  The jury believed that a locally well-known plastic surgeon, Dr. Matthew Galumbeck, who appears regularly on local TV, discharged Maritess Lopez, a 36-year old mother of four, an hour after cosmetic surgery despite having difficulty breathing.

She was dead by the next evening and an autopsy showed that her death was caused by aspiration pneumonia, i.e., pneumonia that results from inhaling stomach contents.  There was testimony that Dr. Galumbeck’s office was notified about Ms. Lopez’s breathing problems but never followed up.  The jury awarded $1.95 million.

A comment to the newspaper article, in the Virginian Pilot, expressed a popular sentiment: “The clear fact is, if she had not chosen to risk her life having the ‘Mommy Makeover’ her four children would still have their ‘Mommy;’ regardless of the care she did or did not receive. Anyone who chooses to go through that much surgery must have known the risk and the worse risk being the end result, death.”

It is true that Maritess did have a lot of surgery at one sitting: a breast lift and augmentation, liposuction, and a tummy tuck.  The problem is that few plastic surgeons make much effort to explain the risk of piggybacking multiple surgeries. After all, the surgeon has a financial disincentive because whether he does three separate procedures or does them all at once, his fee is still the same.

Worse, the patient gets charged three outpatient charges and three anesthesia charges, when the procedures are split up.  So imagine a plastic surgeon saying:  “We could do it all at one time.  My fee is $3,500 and the hospital and anesthesiologist will charge you another $6,000. I recommend, however, that you split it up into three separate surgeries, which would be a lot safer, but then you would have to pay another $18,000 to those others and come back two more times.  So I’ll leave it up to you.”

More likely, the surgeon quickly goes over the additional risk and says, “The whole deal costs $9,500 and you’ll be home the same day.”  If the surgeon actually gave patients a choice, those who didn’t just bolt out of the consultation room would probably focus on $9,500 or $27,500 and make their decision accordingly.

But blaming Maritess for wanting to improve her appearance is no different than blaming any victim; besides, I doubt she understood the risk.  It’s like blaming the storekeeper for getting shot when he attempted to disarm a robber instead of handing over the cash.

The storekeeper had a right to defend his property just like Maritess had a right to make perceived improvements to her own body.  Like every patient, she had a right to expect that her doctor would not take unnecessary risks without explaining them to her and obtaining her consent.

In my humble opinion, the doctor should have simply offered her one procedure and told her he had to see her heal up from the first one before doing another.  In retrospect, I’m sure he wishes he had been firm and told her to go to another surgeon, if she wanted to take excessive risks.

Article first published as Blaming the Victim on Technorati.

Glenn L. Goodhart, M.D., J.D.

6065 Roswell Rd.

Northside Tower
Suite 410

Sandy Springs, GA 30328

Phone: (404) 255-3282

Toll Free: 866-959-2148
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2 Responses to Blame the Victim

  1. Pingback: Follow-up: Blame the Victim | Public Protection Lawyer's Blog

  2. Pingback: Follow-up: Blame the Victim – The Low Down

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