A US woman won $18,000 (£13,850) in damages this week (7 August) after photographs showing her bare breasts were posted online by a California-based plastic surgery clinic.
Photographer Mandi Stillwell, 39, initially sought $300,000 for “lost wages and emotional distress”, the Fresno Bee reported. Stillwell claimed that surgeon Dr Enraquita Lopez violated an agreement to keep medical information confidential after leaking pictures relating to an operation.
Court papers described how Stillwell underwent breast augmentation surgery and a “tummy-tuck” procedure back in March 2013. She was happy with the results.
Five months after the surgery, Stillwell was shocked when a man she met via online dating told her that he had discovered photographs of her bare breasts with a simple Google Images search of her name.
“I had lots of anxiety, lost a lot a sleep and cried a lot,” Stillwell told the jury in Fresno’s County Superior Court.
The legal filing noted that Lopez, working for Aesthetic Laser Centre, was indeed given permission to take “before and after” pictures – but Stillwell later claimed that did not permit them to be posted online.
Michael Ball, the attorney for Dr. Lopez, explained that the images appeared online by mistake. They were, he said, downloaded from a company laptop and later uploaded by an office manager.
Court filings stated that “once the photos were saved on [the manager’s] computer she then uploaded plaintiff’s photos to the ALC website”.
Ball confirmed the images were made available via a search of the patient’s name but stressed that the clinic had worked hard to take them offline after being contacted on 15 August 2013.
Ball claimed that $300,000 in damages was too high because the defendant had been “proudly” showing off her body on Facebook after the operation. But describing herself to the court, Stillwell said that she had been abused as a child and was formerly involved in a violent marriage.
“I definitely have intimacy issues,” she told the jury, as reported by the Miami Herald.
“I find it difficult to be naked in front of men. I had trouble looking in the mirror. I see myself like I’m a monster,” she continued, later adding that she thought cosmetic surgery would help.
Stillwell’s attorney, Arvin Lugay, said: “The unauthorized publication of personally identifiable patient photographs on the internet can be very damaging to the well-being and reputation of patients, especially those who have an internet business or presence.
“When something like that happens, doctors need to be held accountable when they fail in their affirmative duty to protect the privacy of those patients.”