A D.C. Superior Court jury has awarded a 45-year-old Alexandria woman $75,000 in damages in a medical malpractice suit against a Rosslyn plastic surgeon who gave her a facelift seven years ago that left surgical scars.
The award marks the third time in four years that a woman patient has successfully sued Dr. J. Gordon Bell, 71, for disfiguring scars left after one of his operations.
In the case decided late Wednesday afternoon, Teresa Thoreson alleged that her operation seven years ago left her with "severe and obvious grotesque scarring and discoloration of her face, head and neck," according to court documents filed in the case.
Thoreson said she went to Dr. Bell in June 1972 because of puffiness of her eyes, according to court records filed by thoreson and her attorney, Leonard Joseph Keilp.
She said Dr. Bell told her she needed a facelift and that "there would be no visible scarring other than possibly very thin, almost invisible lines in front of each ear, than I would look many years younger and more beautiful," according to court records.
But after the December 1972 operation, Thoreson said, "I had large and obvious scars," but Dr. Bell "continued to assure her that all of her scars . . .would disappear with the passage of time," according to court documents.
Harrison Pledger, Bell's attorney, said he told the court that "the [surgical] procedure was properly done and we had two expert witnesses that agreed that it was properly done.
"The central question was the visibility of the scars," Pledger said. "She believes now that people can see the scars, but when she wears her hair down you can't see the scars," he said, adding that every facelift operation, like any surgery, leaves some scaring.
Kelip said there were scars left on his client's face and neck, and one on the neck measured "up to an inch wide." Pledger said the scar was less than a half-inch wide.
Kelip added that his expert witness testified that the incisions had been "improperly placed" and resulted in "readily visible scars."
Pledger said he would file a motion next week to have the jury award overturned because Toreson filed her suit after the statute of limitations had run out. He said a personal injury case must be filed three years after the incident. Thoreson filed her suit in April 1977.
Four years ago in a similar case, a Superior Court jury awarded Florence Kater, 65, $85,000 after she charged that Dr. Bell was "negligent and careless in that the made unnecessary and improper incisions on" her face and neck, "causing disfigurement.
A year later, another jury awarded $85,000 to Margaret Fredericksen, a 59-year-old Fairfax City widow, after she charged that several facelifts performed by Bell left her with disfiguring scars. The operations had been done four year earlier.