Can You Sue for Illness From Breast Implants?

Over the last decade, the cosmetic surgery industry has seen an explosion of female patients who want breast implants. Breast implant surgery is a common surgical procedure performed by hundreds of licensed plastic surgeons in Chicago and other cities, but unfortunately, it’s also done by many unlicensed individuals and clinics without proper medical training and credentials. So, can you sue for illness from breast implants?

Illnesses Associated With Breast Implants

Breast augmentation is one of the most common and popular plastic surgery procedures performed in Chicago and other major cities around the country. In 2021, more than 365,000 women in the United States received breast implants, and in 2022 that number jumped, with a 44% increase in procedures.

While most women who receive breast implants do well by getting follow-up exams and following home care instructions, there is a small percentage of women who experience health complications referred to as breast implant illness. More than 100 symptoms have been associated with illness from breast implants. Some of the most common ones include:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Dry mouth and eyes
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Hair loss
  • Joint or muscle pain

Because systemic symptoms associated with illness from breast implants are extensive, vague, and commonly linked to other health conditions, it’s often difficult to determine the source. Many symptoms are similar to symptoms associated with menopause, fibromyalgia, and hypothyroidism, as well as autoimmune diseases like Lyme disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and scleroderma.

Symptoms of Complications

Although breast augmentation is one of the most common and popular plastic surgery procedures for women, it should not be taken lightly. Like any surgical procedure carried out with the patient under general anesthesia, breast implant surgery comes with health risks. Typical side effects during recovery include bruising and swelling, pain and soreness, and feelings of tightness in the chest. These symptoms are normal and usually last for several weeks after the surgery. In some cases, more serious breast implant complications may occur that require medical attention. Common complications after surgery include:

  • Changes in coloration, feeling, and size of the nipples
  • Hardening of the breast tissue caused by scar tissue around the implants
  • Noticeable creases or folds in one or both implants
  • Movement or rotation of one or both implants
  • Rupture or leaks in one or both implants, causing small lumps
  • Visible signs of infection that may require removal or the implant

While the above complications of breast implant surgery can be serious, damage may be temporary or permanent. In addition, there are also signs of common complications after surgery that may not be linked to illness from breast implants, but may still be serious, or even life-threatening. Surgical procedures that result in allergic reactions to breast implants or anesthesia, blood clots that form in the veins, and excessive bleeding during surgery put patients at high-risk for serious complications and death.

Seek Medical Attention and Proper Diagnosis

Women who get breast implants and experience abnormal symptoms or illness from breast implants should seek medical attention and get a proper diagnosis from a board certified plastic surgeon. Following breast implant surgery, some symptoms of health concerns and surgery complications may occur immediately after surgery, while others may not show up for years.

Diagnosis usually starts with a physical exam of your implants, an X-ray or ultrasound of your breast tissue, and a discussion of your symptoms. If the exam and test results don’t show a diagnosis, other tests may be performed by specialists to address immune system concerns, hormone or thyroid issues, hair and skin rashes, and emotional challenges. If no underlying conditions are found, your doctor may discuss your feelings about removing your breast implants.

Legal Grounds for a Lawsuit in Illinois

All types of cosmetic surgery procedures, including breast augmentation, come with the risks of injuries and health complications, but you can’t file a medical malpractice lawsuit with a cosmetic surgery lawyer just because you dislike the aesthetic results of your surgery. Legal grounds for medical malpractice must be based on injuries caused by surgical errors by the surgeon who performed your breast implant procedure. You can hold your surgeon liable for your botched cosmetic surgery, but only if the surgeon’s negligent actions or inaction caused you significant harm.

In Illinois, cosmetic surgery malpractice cases come with more legal challenges than other types of medical malpractice cases. This is because cosmetic surgery in most cases is purely elective. The court looks at elective surgical procedures differently than other surgical procedures necessary to restore a patient’s health or save a patient’s life. With elective procedures, the patient chooses to have the procedure, which means that the patient signs up for some risks and complications that can occur. Most cosmetic surgical procedures are not considered deadly types of medical malpractice.

Medical professionals and surgeons require their patients to sign waivers that protect them from liability if something goes wrong during the procedure. Before you move forward with an injury claim or medical malpractice lawsuit, you should review the waiver you signed before undergoing surgery. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit, but it will make your case more complicated. To prove negligence, you need documented proof of your cosmetic injuries and your surgeon’s negligent actions that will stand up in court.

Lawsuits Against the Manufacturer

The majority of lawsuits based on defective breast implants involve the injured person (the “plaintiff”) suing the manufacturer of the breast implants. Typically, a case against the manufacturer will be a product liability case and will include claims of strict liability, a failure to warn, breach of express and implied warranties, negligence, and sometimes fraud.

  • Strict Liability Claims – you only need to prove that: 1- the manufacturer sold the breast implant in a dangerous condition, 2- the manufacturer intended the implant to reach the consumer (you) unaltered, and 3- you were injured by the implant’s dangerous condition.
  • Failure to Warn Claims – as the name implies, you must prove that the manufacturer knew or should have known about a particular risk inherent in the breast implant, but failed to provide you with an adequate warning. If you can prove the manufacturer knew about the defect, you might also win a fraud case against the manufacturer and collect punitive damages.

Role of Experts and Medical Evidence

In medical malpractice lawsuits, medical evidence and expert testimony is key to a successful outcome. Medical evidence should include dates of your doctor visits, physical exams, and medical treatments, copies of your test results from X-rays, MRIs, and ultrasounds, medication prescribed by your doctor, referrals to other doctors and specialists, and your medical bills. To help your case, you or your lawyer should also gather witness statements from other patients or medical professionals who can testify on your behalf in court to help prove the 4 D’s of medical negligence.

Illinois Laws and Regulations for Breast Implants

In 2022, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an alert to the public about certain cancers, including squamous cell carcinoma and various lymphomas, that have been reported in the scar tissue that forms around breast implants. FDA findings show that occurrences of squamous cell carcinoma and various lymphomas in the capsule around breast implants are rare, but women considering breast implants should be aware of these health risks.

Under Illinois laws, coverage for breast reconstruction in connection with a mastectomy shall include reconstruction of the breast upon which the mastectomy was performed, surgery and reconstruction of the other breast to produce a symmetrical appearance, and prostheses and treatment for physical complications at all stages of mastectomy, including lymphedemas.

Statute of Limitations for Filing a Lawsuit

In Illinois, a medical malpractice lawsuit must be filed within two years of the date of the injury, when you reasonably should have known about your injury, or when you received notice of your injury. However, Illinois sets a “statute of repose” (an outer limit) of four years on medical malpractice lawsuits filed within the state. This means you have four years to file a medical malpractice lawsuit, but after those four years pass, you are not permitted to file a medical malpractice lawsuit for your injuries, no matter when you discovered or should have known that you were injured.

Steps to File a Lawsuit for Breast Implant-related Illness

To file a lawsuit for illness from breast implants, you should schedule a consultation with a lawyer who handles these types of cases. Filing a lawsuit is a big decision and one that requires serious legal preparation. As the plaintiff in a civil case like a breast implant lawsuit, the burden of proof is on you, and you need an experienced lawyer who can show proof of your illness and proof that surgical errors or medical negligence caused your injury or illness. 

Chicago personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney Howard Ankin has a passion for justice and a relentless commitment to defending injured victims throughout the Chicagoland area. With decades of experience achieving justice on behalf of the people of Chicago, Howard has earned a reputation as a proven leader in and out of the courtroom. Respected by peers and clients alike, Howard’s multifaceted approach to the law and empathetic nature have secured him a spot as an influential figure in the Illinois legal system.

Years of Experience: More than 30 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, U.S. District Court, Central District of Illinois
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