Cosmetic surgery has never been more popular than it is today.
Perhaps the craze started with popular rhinoplasty (“nose jobs”) in the 1980s... or with the rise of breast implants in the late 1990s. In the early 2000s, breast augmentation was the most popular cosmetic surgery in the United States. (source)
But cosmetic surgery is hardly a flash-in-the-pan interest or trend—it’s here to stay. While various procedures evolve in and out of style, there’s no limit to what patients want to do to improve their perceptions of their bodies.
Unfortunately, surgery always has risks. Even the most minor surgery could result in a complication or issue that could create lasting injuries for the patient.
If you’re a member of GenX (or a Boomer), you might remember the days of waiflike models who were stick-thin and styles trended toward nearly emaciated bodies. Today, trends have shifted and society is embracing more robust body types. That’s why some people are looking to enhance the shape and size of their bottoms through Brazilian butt lift surgery.
In fact, a market research firm reported that butt augmentation was a $1.5 million industry in 2020. It projects 22% growth each year, reaching $6.6 billion by 2028. This type of surgery comes with a price tag of about $5,000, not including anesthesia, operating room costs or other expenses—and it’s not covered by insurance.
What is a Brazilian butt lift?
Yes, that is the real name of the procedure.
This surgery liposuctions fat from the abdomen or thighs and injects it into a person’s buttocks. It’s desired by people who wish to have a more hourglass-shaped figure.
This might sound simple, but it isn’t. In 2017, it had the country's highest death rate of any cosmetic surgery. It’s one of the most dangerous cosmetic procedures.
Risks associated with Brazilian butt lift surgery
A 29-year-old woman named Chelsea reported serious injuries following her butt lift procedure. Following the surgery, she experienced fat necrosis. The oxygen that is supposed to flow to her body tissue was restricted, which caused cells to die. As a result, Chelsea experiences burning sensations in her back, stomach and buttocks, along with nerve damage and bladder incontinence. She’s a year past the procedure but still sees a therapist to help her deal with the trauma. She says she isn’t the same person she was before.
Fat necrosis is a serious complication that sometimes happens with butt lift surgery and usually is caused by the surgeon’s poor technique.
A West Virginia woman traveled to Miami in 2016 to have a Brazilian butt lift. Like Chelsea, she was a new mom and wanted a “Mommy makeover” with some “improvements” to her body.
Dr. James McAdoo at Encore Plastic Surgery performed the procedure. A vein was punctured during the fat transplant and the fat entered the bloodstream and traveled to her lungs. This caused her to stop breathing and she died.
At least eight other women who received butt lifts at a variety of South Florida practices in the previous five years died from fat embolisms after receiving a butt lift procedure. Nearly a dozen others suffered critical complications like internal organ punctures and were rushed to hospitals for life-saving treatment.
Several plastic surgery societies were alarmed by the number of butt lift fatalities that had been reported in recent years, so they formed a task force to study the issues with the procedure. They found that one of the standard practices was creating unnecessary risk. Specifically, doctors would inject fat into muscle, which can send the fat directly to the heart or lungs if they accidentally puncture a vein. They said it’s safer to inject the fat into tissue between the skin and muscle, and to use a larger surgical tool that is less likely to puncture a vein.
This recommendation has resulted in fewer fatalities, and it is now about as dangerous as a tummy tuck.
Other complications from butt lift surgery
However, while it appears that the procedure has become less risky, that might not necessarily be true. This procedure has less accountability than a typical surgical procedure. A doctor is not required to report when it results in a hospital transfer or fatality. Cosmetic surgeries aren’t perceived by many regulatory agencies as invasive or potentially life-threateneing procedures.
In one instance, a 51-year-old woman’s small intestine was perforated three times during cosmetic surgery, which caused her own waste to spill and travel through her body. In another, a 33-year-old woman was hospitalized after cosmetic surgery because of internal bleeding caused by a lacerated liver.
Brazilian butt lift lawsuits
The Florida Department of Health filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Dr. McAdoo, claiming he did not slowly and carefully inject the fat, which led to the vein being punctured. He also was negligent in failing to follow a state guideline that the procedure should not be performed for at least three months after a woman has given birth.
The victim’s family settled a medical malpractice lawsuit against Dr. McAdoo for an unspecified amount of damages.
The injuries and deaths in Florida have led to various legal claims, both against doctors performing these types of procedures, and against shady clinics that offer them. (source)
A Dallas plaintiff has a similar lawsuit pending. Plaintiff Rolanda Hutton had a Brazilian butt lift at the Dallas Plastic Surgery Institute in 2017. When she awakened after surgery, she found that she couldn’t feel her legs. She is still wheelchair-bound and likely will never walk again.
She sued the doctor who performed the surgery, and later amended the lawsuit to include other doctors who work for the Institute and the Cloisters, a post-surgical hotel recovery center run by the same doctors. Patients are moved from the Institute to the Cloisters to recover after surgery. The “hotel” is an unlicensed and unregulated skilled nursing facility.
Hutton was at the Cloisters for two days following her surgery and claims its staff was negligent in not sending her directly to the hospital when she told them she couldn’t feel her legs. Hutton’s case is not yet resolved.
Liability for a botched cosmetic surgery procedure
If you suffer an injury that results from a “traditional” medical procedure, you might be able to sue your doctor, hospital or another provider for medical malpractice.
In general, medical malpractice claims can include (but are not limited to):
- Failure to diagnose or incorrect diagnosis of a condition
- Misreading or disregarding lab results
- Unnecessary surgery
- Surgical error
- Improper medication or dosage administration or prescription
- Poor or inadequate follow-up care
- Premature discharge
If a medical professional (doctor, nurse, technician, etc.) does not perform their duties according to the appropriate standard of care, they could be negligent and liable for malpractice.
Most medical malpractice cases are complex. They require a plaintiff (the injured patient) to prove that they would not have suffered the injury but for the doctor or provider’s negligence.
For instance, is the doctor liable if you undergo a surgical procedure and develop an infection at the site a week later? Maybe. But maybe not. If the doctor followed all the required and standard precautions and procedures for safe and sanitary treatment, they would likely not be found negligent.
The court would look at how facility procedure was followed, including sanitizing of instruments, after-care and other factors. If the physician did everything according to accepted standards and regulations, they aren’t negligent. Sometimes, things happen outside of a doctor’s control, even when the patient receives the best and most careful treatment.
One of the issues around Brazilian butt lift surgery and similar is that they’re not regulated like a traditional medical procedure. For that reason, making a strong claim for negligence can be difficult. If the industry is largely unregulated, then proving that a doctor didn’t follow regulations is tricky.
However, if a provider is unlicensed or makes an error, they can be held liable for malpractice or fraud.
Can you get cosmetic surgery safely?
Cosmetic surgery can be affirming and life-changing in positive ways. Many people seek cosmetic surgery for various reasons and it can be safe and healthy.
The American Board of Cosmetic Surgery offers these suggestions for a patient seeking to find a cosmetic surgeon:
- Seek a board-certified cosmetic surgeon. The American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (ACBS) is specifically dedicated to cosmetic surgeons and has a stringent credentialing process. You can ask a surgeon if they’re board-certified.
- Ask about the surgeon’s experience with your specific procedure. You can ask your prospective surgeon how many times they’ve performed the procedure you’re getting. You can find out how they trained, how many years they’ve been practicing in cosmetic surgery and how many of this particular surgery they’ve done—successfully. If the doctor hedges or refuses to answer your questions, they might not be the right fit for you.
- Ask about potential outcomes—good and bad. A doctor can’t warn you of every possible risk that could happen. Surgery of any kind is inherently risky. But you can find out what your result should be, and what are the most common complications.
- Check the facility’s accreditation. Find out where the surgery will be performed. If it’s not a hospital, ask if the surgical center is certified by a state medical board or another accrediting body. You can and should also ask about the qualifications of the person performing anesthesia. They should be either a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) or a board-certified anesthesiologist.
- Trust your gut and observe how patients are treated. You might only see how your doctor interacts with you, but observe the office, itself. Does the reception staff take a “factory” approach where each person is just moved through the process but there’s no human connection? Customer service matters, even in a doctor’s office. If the office staff is courteous and caring, it’s a good sign that any post-operative concerns will be addressed promptly.
Contact a personal injury lawyer if you’ve suffered an injury from cosmetic surgery
If you’ve been injured during a Brazilian butt lift, other cosmetic surgery or any type of medical procedure and you believe it’s a result of medical malpractice, you could have legal recourse.
These cases are complicated and require medical experts to prove a patient’s claim. That’s why you need a skilled, compassionate and experienced personal injury lawyer to help.