A recent case taken up on appeal answered the question of whether a medical provider can be held responsible for deceptive and entrepreneurial marketing. An average consumer may not be aware of this, but this issue has been something of a long-running legal battle by trial lawyers in Washington. In a win for consumers of medical services throughout Washington State, the answer is yes.
In the case of Williams v. Lifestyle Holdings, Inc., et al, (just decided in May 2013), Ms. Williams was persuaded to have what turned out to be a conventional cosmetic surgery by deceptive advertisements claiming the “Lifestyle Lift” was a minor procedure with major results that produced quicker results than “traditional procedures.” It turned out the only thing different about the “Lifestyle Lift” was the company’s business model, while the actual surgery was identical to traditional surgery. To make matters worse, this different business model was specifically designed to attract customers wary of traditional surgery–customers exactly like Ms. Williams. All of these facts were uncovered by the thorough and determined work of Ms. Williams’ attorneys, Ben Wells and Luigi Colombo, but were not fully revealed to Ms. Williams before she agreed to undergo surgery.
The surgery did not go well. Her face looked “like a blowfish” when the bandages came back, she suffered intense pain a week after the surgery, and eventually underwent a second surgery with a different surgeon to correct the problems. She sued, in part, for violation of the consumer protection act because of the deceptive marketing that persuaded her to have the surgery.
The trial court dismissed all of her consumer protection act claims because damages arising from personal injury aren’t usually allowed under the act. This case is particularly noteworthy because the Appellate Court held that personal injury damages arising from professional services are not necessarily excluded from consumer protection act claims, and that medical providers cannot escape liability under the act once they stop practicing medicine and instead get into the business of selling surgeries. The summary judgment was therefore reversed and the consumer protection act claims must now be allowed to proceed to trial.
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