Toxic gel victim wins court payout

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 May, 2006, 12:00am

Over 19,000 yuan granted to woman who sued Guangzhou clinic after breast surgery using banned substance

A Guangzhou court has granted more than 19,000 yuan in compensation and the return of medical expenses to a woman who sued a clinic for using a banned toxic gel in her breast enlargement surgery.

The ruling, described by mainland media as the first in favour of victims who suffered similar injuries, was handed down by Tianhe District Court against Guangzhou Huamei Cosmetic and Plastic Surgery Clinic.

The clinic's head, surnamed Han, declined to comment on the judgment yesterday and insisted the clinic had 'never breached laws and regulations'.

The court said the woman, identified only as Mrs Xu, visited the clinic in May last year and doctors injected 200ml of hydrophilic polyacrylamide gel - known as PAAG - into her breasts. She experienced side effects including pain, lumps and inflammation of breast tissue shortly afterwards. She tried to have the gel removed but the surgery was unsuccessful.

The court did not rule on the use of the gel, but on the standard of the clinic, saying that because the clinic was not a state-level institution, surgeons were not qualified to use the material in an operation.

The gel was commonly used on the mainland, particularly in breast enlargements, until the State Food and Drug Administration banned it last month in response to concerns first raised by Hong Kong's Consumer Council about its safety.

Deng Jianxiong , director of the Guangdong Adverse Drug Reaction Monitoring Centre, said 57 cases of adverse reactions to surgery involving PAAG implants had been submitted to the centre from 2004 up to last month.

The court ruling was welcomed by Beijing lawyer Pu Zhiqiang , who is one of the lawyers representing Shenzhen woman Zhang Huiqin in her suit against Shenzhen Fuhua Hospital for alleged injuries resulting from a PAAG injection.

'The result, of course, will send a positive message. But the compensation amount is too small. I think it is not enough to cover the patient's losses. It will discourage patients from suing the cosmetic hospitals,' Mr Pu said.

Ms Zhang said her suit was a different case to Mrs Xu's and she 'was just hoping the Shenzhen court would hand down a verdict'. Ms Zhang's Shenzhen lawyer, Zhou Jian , said the ruling yesterday in Guangzhou would have some impact on his client's application.

'China does not have case law, and theoretically the Guangzhou lawsuit will not affect Zhang Huiqin's case in Shenzhen. But, considering the special situation in China and the high amount of public attention focused on this case, the favourable [ruling] in Guangzhou may have some positive influence,' Mr Zhou said.

Shenzhen Fuhua Hospital, closed a week ago for an investigation over assaults on Hong Kong reporters, was allowed to reopen yesterday. The hospital kept its front door closed, and staff and patients used a side door.

A hospital manager declined to comment on the status of the hospital. Government sources said four hospital staff detained last week over the assault investigation are still being held. Cao Mengchao , a vice-director of the hospital, has been released on bail.

Some patients who went to the hospital yesterday said they were surprised by its sudden closure.

'Nobody told me that they had been closed,' said a Shenzhen man who did not want to be named. 'I had already paid for facial surgery, and I was worried that they would never open again.'