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Claimant awarded over £500,000 in compensation from high street optician after botched surgery

Judge criticises Optical Express' sharp sales practices and 'inappropriate' procedure

1 October 2014

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The high street optician Optical Express has been ordered to pay more than £500,000 in damages after laser surgery ruined a book dealer's eyesight.

Staff at the high street optician were found to have failed to warn the claimant, Stephanie Holloway, of the risks involved and the possible complications linked to the procedure.

After the surgery in 2008, the claimant was left with corneal haze and regression and has been forced to wear dark glasses at all times as her eyes are so sensitive to light.

Refusing to believe the full extent of Holloway's injuries, Optical Express employed private investigators to prove she was exaggerating. This instead proved uneventful as the claimant never took off her glasses while being filmed.

Judge Edward Bailey further ruled that Holloway should not have paid £2,790 for an operation which 'on any objective basis she should never have had'. The judge continued that the claimant had been 'enticed' and 'tempted' into the optician's Southampton branch after seeing an advert proclaiming that eye surgery could be had 'from £395'. However, the claimant was quoted more than seven times that sum and the judge expressed doubt that many patients were operated on for the advertised price.

The judge read from the chain's confidential guidance to its staff, who were told to 'meet and greet' clients, 'manage their expectations', 'encourage them to proceed' and 'reduce price objections' by reassuring customers 'they were in excellent hands'.

Judge Bailey also said it was 'not appropriate' procedure for a patient to sign a consent form immediately before an operation. "That is not how things should be done," he commented.

Daniel Clifford, head of the clinical negligence department at Devonshires Solicitors, said: "This has been a long and difficult case for my client and I and everyone in the medical negligence team are delighted that justice has been done and our client can now move on with trying to rebuild her life.

"Stephanie's life has been irreversibly changed as a result of the surgery she underwent and the failure to properly advise her of the risks of the procedure that she was asked to pay for. She feels extremely let down by Optical Express and that they have put profit before patient care. Optical Express and their lawyers have made this whole process as difficult as possible for my client and never once apologised for what happened. The stresses of this long litigation process have at times been too much for Stephanie."

He continued: "[We] and Stephanie hope this case has highlighted that the high street laser eye surgery business needs more effective regulation and we call on the government to look carefully at this issue - as my client is not alone in her experience. I am concerned that some doctors, perhaps themselves driven by profits, are not treating clients properly when they advise on and seek to undertake delicate eye treatment."

The damages award totalled £569,287, including £30,000 for Holloway's 'pain and suffering' and over £400,000 for her lost earnings.

Holloway commented: "I am delighted with the result and it is such a relief to put this whole experience behind me. Optical Express have been aggressive throughout the litigation and used every tactic to try and make me abandon my claim. They have never apologised for what happened to me. It has been an extremely challenging few years."

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Clinical negligence