£6m for facelift 'experiment' woman

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The Independent Online

A businesswoman who brought a High Court action against a plastic surgeon who she said decided to "play God" with her life was awarded more than £6 million damages today.

Penny Johnson, 49, claimed that Mr Le Roux Fourie carried out experimental surgery during a facelift in August 2003 which 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 at London's High Court in February, she asked Mr Justice Owen to award her a proportion of the £54 million which she says was her potential loss, as a 50% shareholder, when Bishop Cavanagh Ltd failed in 2009.

Mrs Johnson, of Godstone, Surrey, said the stress of the litigation had made her condition worse.

Mr Justice Owen gave his ruling in the case today and awarded her £6,190,884.92.

During the hearing, Mrs Johnson 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."

Alain Choo Choy QC, for Mr Fourie, who admitted liability but put the potential business loss at only £9 million, did not accept that the surgery was experimental.

He said the claim that Mrs Johnson's company lost out on a series of lucrative contracts was unrealistic and deluded.

It was accepted that her injuries restricted her ability to work to some extent but the business had failed for unrelated commercial and economic reasons.

During her absence, the company was managed by her husband, Peter, a reasonably successful businessman with whom she now owns another business, BC Direct, and other senior colleagues.

The bulk of today's award related to lost earnings, both past and future.

In his ruling, the judge said that Mrs Johnson was formerly a confident, happy and outstandingly successful woman with a full and rewarding family and social life.

But the negligent surgery had 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".

It was also clear that the injuries from the facelift and from the replacement of pre-existing breast implants, which was carried out at the same time, imposed very considerable stress upon 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.

"They no longer go out together as they used regularly to do, and have become detached from the close knit group of friends whose company they used to enjoy."

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

Assessing Mrs Johnson's claim for loss of earnings, the judge said that her projections were the product of her intense disappointment at the "devastating" consequences so far as the business of Bishop Cavanagh Ltd was concerned.

"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."

It was clear to him that she had persuaded herself that its prospects were far better than could realistically be justified.

As to residual earning capacity, it was clear that Mrs Johnson functioned intellectually at a very high level and continued to have the potential to deploy her outstanding abilities in the business context.

But account had to be taken of the uncertain prognosis for her psychiatric symptoms.

"Unless she makes a full recovery, and unless she 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."