Monday 23 May 2011

A woman who sued a plastic surgeon who "played God" with her life has been awarded more than £6m in damages.

Penny Johnson, 49, claimed Le Roux Fourie carried out experimental surgery during a facelift in August 2003 that caused nerve damage to the right side of her face and led to her financial and IT consultancy business going into administration.

At a trial in February at the high court in London she asked Justice Owen to award her a proportion of the £54m she says was her potential loss, as a 50% shareholder, when her company, Bishop Cavanagh, failed in 2009.

During the hearing, Johnson, of Godstone, Surrey, said: "My face is constantly contracting, I don't sleep and I have a permanent buzzing around my eye, which can be so intense that I can't think about anything."

The judge gave his ruling in the case on Monday and awarded her £6,190,884.92.

Alain Choo Choy QC, defending, accepted liability but put the potential business loss at £9m. He did not accept the surgery had been experimental. The claim that Bishop Cavanagh lost out on a series of lucrative contracts was unrealistic and deluded, he said.

He accepted that her injuries restricted her ability to work but the business had failed for unrelated commercial and economic reasons. The court was told that during her absence the company was run by her husband, Peter, with whom she now owns another business, BC Direct. The bulk of the award relates to lost earnings, both past and future.

In his ruling, the judge said Johnson had been a confident, happy and outstandingly successful woman with a full and rewarding family and social life. But the negligent surgery had serious consequences – both physical and psychological – and resulted in a prolonged adjustment disorder with features of anxiety and depression. As he observed during the trial, the facial twitching she suffered was "virtually constant".

He said it was clear her injuries from the facelift and the replacement of breast implants, which was carried out at the same time, had harmed her relationship with her husband. "Their marriage has survived, but the claimant said in evidence that she is no longer a wife to her husband. He says that she is now a completely different person and that their marriage is not what it used to be."

He awarded £80,000 for the facial disfigurement, the asymmetry and pain caused by the breast surgery and the psychological consequences of the injuries.

Assessing Johnson's claim for loss of earnings, the judge said her projections were the product of her intense disappointment at the "devastating" consequences to the business. "She has understandably become preoccupied by what might have been, which has affected her judgment as to what could and would in reality have been achieved," he added.

As to her residual earning capacity, the judge said Johnson functioned intellectually at a high level and continued to have the potential to deploy her outstanding abilities at work. But account had to be taken of the uncertain prognosis for her psychiatric symptoms. He said: "Unless she makes a full recovery ... recovers some vestige of her former self-confidence, the prospect of engagement in business activities that involve face-to-face contact with others is limited."