Judge calls for regulation of tattooists

Posted: 21st November 2012

A senior judge has expressed his horror after a young woman was left scarred for life when injected in the breast with a caustic chemical by a cosmetic tattooist who had had one hour's training in the procedure. Lord Justice Tomlinson observed that tattooing is ‘a wholly unregulated field and, from a strictly legal point of view, could be offered by a bus conductor’.

‘It is difficult not to be overwhelmed by surprise. This person had had one hour's training in this procedure. If I knew that I was to be injected with a caustic substance by someone with one hour's training, I would be horrified. However, it is apparently permitted. It beggars belief’, he added.

TattoogunThe claimant in the case was 18 when she had a black broken heart with red tears tattooed to the inside of her left breast. She later had it covered up with a tribal design but, as she reached her 30s and feared it would mean she was not taken seriously in her career, she went to the defendant to have it removed.

Using a proprietary procedure, the defendant injected caustic oxides into the claimant’s breast. The chemical was meant to eliminate pigments through an acute inflammatory reaction but only succeeded in removing part of the tattoo and left an unsightly scar.

The claimant was awarded £5,000 damages by a county court judge in March 2012 after a consultant dermatologist testified that, in his view, the procedure used carried ‘a very high risk’ of scarring. The defendant, who had not used the procedure before, was unaware of the scarring risk but was held liable on the basis that she had been negligent in the advice and warning that she gave her client.

Challenging that ruling at the Court of Appeal, the defendant’s lawyers argued that she had been ‘misled’ and ‘given a false sense of security’ by marketing literature for the procedure used. Given that tattoo practitioners are unregulated and do not need any medical qualifications, it was submitted that, judged by the standards of her peers, the defendant had exercised the level of skill and care reasonably to be expected of her.

Lord Justice Tomlinson ‘very reluctantly’ granted the defendant permission to appeal after hearing that she was not insured and is facing bankruptcy as a result of the finding against her. The case will now go ahead for a full hearing at the Court of Appeal, although the judge urged the parties to consider mediation.