A St. Louis area doctor is facing lawsuits from 10 women claiming she put before-and-after pictures of their breast augmentation surgeries on her website.
The suits in federal court in St. Louis accuse Michele Koo of Kirkwood of negligence for displaying pictures linked to the names of the women. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that in most cases, the images showed no faces and were authorized by patients who expected their names to remain confidential.
Long Island, N.Y.-based MedNet Technologies Inc. ran Koo’s website, and Koo’s attorneys blame MedNet. Attorney Jonathan Ries said Koo had no intention of linking pictures and names.
But MedNet blames Koo, saying it did not post, control or influence the content of the website.
Neil Bruntrager, a lawyer for eight of the patients, said they were horrified when they found out about the photos. Some learned of the situation from people who had run across their pictures.
The photos, used as a marketing tool to promote doctors’ work, are not publicly labeled with names. But if patients’ names aren’t removed from the computerized picture file information, they can be displayed with the images during an Internet search.
The Post-Dispatch found the problem to be widespread. The newspaper said a Google search pulled up multiple doctors’ websites with patient pictures and names and the procedures they paid for, including nose jobs, liposuctions, face lifts and breast enlargements or reductions.
The Post-Dispatch said the website for O.M. Suliman of St. Petersburg, Fla., revealed names of patients with a simple roll of the cursor over images of their breast augmentations. One of those patients, a Florida woman, said through tears that she hoped her pictures would be quickly removed “because I’m pretty horrified about it. And I’m horrified for other women, too.”
Suliman called the newspaper back four days after his office learned of the problem, saying he had shut down the website until it could be fixed. He speculated that an employee who left the office in December had failed to remove patients’ names before uploading the pictures.
“I’m very, very upset about this,” he said. “This is just not right.”
In court filings, Koo’s lawyers say her patients signed waivers. A copy of one obtained by the Post-Dispatch says photos, videos or case histories may be used by Koo, the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery or others “under their license and authority” in journals, books, presentations or websites “for the purpose of informing the medical profession or the general public.”
However, the following line reads: “Neither I, nor any member of my family, will be identified by name in any publication.”
Pictures on Koo’s site no longer contain names, although at least one patient’s lawyer claimed that it took months to get hers removed.
Asked how widespread the problem might be, Ries said: “I don’t think any of us really know the answer to that question.”