Injury Claims for LASIK Eye Surgery Error

LASIK eye surgery is a common corrective procedure, and is generally safe. But when things go wrong, the patient may be able to file a lawsuit for their injury.

LASIK surgery is widely used to correct several types of vision problems, and it is normally very successful. When things go wrong though, the patient may have a legal claim against the surgeon, or more rarely, against the manufacturer of the LASIK equipment. This article addresses the key factors that determine the injured patients' rights to an injury claim or lawsuit.

What is LASIK?

LASIK eye surgery is a corrective procedure that is used to treat vision problems -- specifically, the three main types of refractive errors: myopia, hyperopia and astigmatism.

During LASIK surgery, using a laser, the ophthalmologist cuts a flap in the cornea and reshapes it in order to improve its focusing power. Millions of people undergo this surgery each year as an alternative to wearing glasses or contact lenses.

What Can Go Wrong?

While most patients are satisfied with the results of LASIK surgery, there are a few risks involved. Some of those risks include:

  • Patient may lose lines of vision
  • Patient can develop debilitating visual symptoms such as glare, halos and/or double vision that can affect nighttime vision
  • Patient may be under-treated or over-treated and may still need glasses or contacts after surgery
  • Patient may develop severe dry eye syndrome, a condition in which the eye is not able to produce enough tears to keep the eye most. This can cause discomfort and may reduce vision clarity.

The key to successful LASIK surgery depends on the screening procedures and preparation. Permanent damage can happen if the procedure is not executed correctly. Complications can result from a variety of causes, including:

  • Improper pre-operative screening
  • Improper surgical technique (for example, during surgery, the physician may cut the cornea too shallow or too deep)
  • Faulty medical equipment
  • Insufficient follow-up treatment

The consequences of complications from LASIK eye surgery can be significant. Improper use or malfunction of the equipment can result in damage to the cornea. Patients can also suffer cornea damage simply because they were not good candidates for the procedure. In particular, people with large pupils, thin corneas or dry eyes are more prone to experiencing complications from the surgery.

Can The Patient Sue For a LASIK Error?

If something goes wrong during a LASIK procedure, most legal claims for compensation will be brought as a medical or professional malpractice lawsuit against the surgeon, ophthalmologist or other health care provider.

Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Against The Surgeon

Like any other health care professional, an ophthalmologist or other doctor who performs LASIK surgery is held to certain standards when it comes to the provision of care to patients. But remember, just because a problem occurs during a LASIK procedure, that doesn't necessarily mean that the doctor has committed medical malpractice.

The key is to first establish what the reasonable standard of professional care would have been in a particular treatment scenario -- in other words, the level of care that a reasonably skilled and competent ophthalmologist would have provided to the patient under the circumstances.

Next, you would need to show precisely how the ophthalmologist failed to perform up to that standard -- what the ophthalmologist did or did not do in light of what he or she should have done.

Proof of the first two elements discussed above -- standard of care and then the ophthalmologist's deviation from that standard -- almost always requires the sworn testimony of an expert medical witness who has experience with LASIK procedures.

Finally, any malpractice lawsuit will hinge on whether the health care professional's provision of substandard care actually led to the patient's harm, and that harm must itself be documented.

These types of cases are difficult to prove, and expensive to prepare. See Challenges of Winning a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit for more on the legal hurdles.

Product Liability Lawsuit Against The Equipment Manufacturer

In some cases, a legal claim may also exist against the manufacturer of LASIK equipment or other instruments used in treatment, if those products end up being defective or unreasonably dangerous, and the patient is harmed as a result. In these types of cases, the patient doesn't have to prove negligence – like he or she would need in a medical malpractice lawsuit – because manufacturers are held "strictly liable". This means they are directly responsible if their equipment causes someone injury.

Starting an Injury Claim

In either a medical malpractice, or product liability claim, you'll need a lawyer with experience in LASIK injury cases to determine the validity of your case. The best first step would be to talk to several medical malpractice attorneys licensed in your state. These types of lawyers spend a good amount of their time trying cases against health care providers, and are well versed in the legal and complicated medical issues involved. They also have medical experts that they've used in the past who can look over the medical charts and other evidence to quickly identify possible causes of action -- grounds for a lawsuit.

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