According to a U.S. News and World Report study, today there are more than 20,000 tattoo parlors operating in the United States. The popularity of tattoo parlors has increased dramatically during the past 10 years. And there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight.
Along with the increase in tattoo parlors is a corresponding increase in tattoo infections and injuries. To combat the rising number of injuries, 47 states have passed laws requiring tattoo parlors to be licensed. Only New Mexico, North Dakota and Washington, D.C., presently allow tattoo parlors to operate unlicensed and unregulated.
To protect themselves from personal injury claims, most tattoo businesses carry insurance. Without insurance, a business owner exposes himself to the financial consequences of a customer lawsuit or a substantial settlement amount. One successful lawsuit can effectively put an uninsured tattoo parlor out of business.
Tattoo Infections and Other Injuries
A tattoo artist creates a tattoo when he uses a very sharp needle to inject ink into your skin. The mechanical needle can pierce your skin up to 3,000 times every minute! The needle puncture wounds generally heal, but when they don’t, serious health problems can plague an unfortunate customer.
Unsanitary tattoo needles can cause tetanus infections, dermatitis, and other bacterial and viral infections. They can also pass transmittable diseases like hepatitis, tuberculosis, and even HIV.
Tattoo injuries occur for a variety of reasons. Here are a few:
- The tattoo artist may reuse needles. Bacteria can contaminate reused needles.
- The immediate area around the customer chair is dusty, so it contaminates the injection site.
- The employee may not have washed his hands.
- Someone improperly sterilized the needle.
- The tattoo artist may have a transmittable illness or disease.
- Chemicals in the ink may be contaminated.
- The artist may have failed to review your medical history to avoid allergic reactions.
Before you decide to get a tattoo…
Your friend may tell you she got her tattoo at Joe’s Ink on 37th street, and that Joe is the best tattoo artist in the world and half the price of other parlors. That’s fine, but taking your friend’s word for it could be a decision you’ll soon regret. If you’re going to be inked, as they say in the tattoo business, first be sure Joe’s parlor is licensed and insured. Although your friend may have escaped injury, you may not be so lucky. It’s worth it to pay more for a reputable, safe tattoo parlor.
If your tattoo becomes infected or Joe’s version of a lightning rod on your arm turns into one long jagged scar, who’s going to be responsible for your doctor’s bills? Or the antibiotics? Who’s going to pay the dermatologist to remove the scar? What if you contract hepatitis or another transmittable disease and can’t work? How are you going to pay your bills? What about your pain and suffering?
Before sitting in the tattoo artist’s chair to begin the inking process, ask to see the parlor’s state license. They should prominently display it. Check to see whether the license matches the address of the parlor, and make sure the license is current. If it’s not, turn around and leave. If the license is current, look for the parlor’s state, county, and city health code certificates. The artist must also prominently display those.
Next, ask to see the parlor’s autoclave. An autoclave is the device used to sanitize the instruments the artist will use to apply your tattoo. Finally, ask the owner whether he’s bonded, or insured. Tell him you’d like to see a copy of his insurance policy or the policy’s declaration page.
Be proactive. Hope for the best but expect the worst. Make a note of the insurance company’s name and contact information. A reputable tattoo parlor owner shouldn’t have any problem with your legitimate requests. You’re about to pay him for your tattoo. It should only take him a few minutes to accommodate you. If the owner hesitates or becomes antagonized, then adios!
What to do if things go wrong…
The best-laid plans sometimes go wrong. Even if you’ve taken all proper precautions, there’s still a chance you may get injured. In the unfortunate event your tattoo session results in an injury, you need to file an injury claim with the tattoo parlor’s insurance company. In doing so, you begin the claims process.
The sooner you contact the tattoo owner, the better. For each day that goes by, the tattoo parlor owner and his insurance company will claim your injury was unrelated to the tattoo and occurred in the interim period between the tattoo process and your filing the insurance claim.
Tell the tattoo parlor’s owner your tattoo resulted in an injury. Although most tattoo artists know their own tattoos, bring your receipt. If your injury is obvious, show it to him. Tell the tattoo owner you did nothing to create or exacerbate the injury.
Be sure to take ample photographs of the tattoo and infected area. It’s important to photographically document the infection site. Bring with you your doctor’s diagnosis of your injury. You may have gone to the emergency room, where the blood tests the emergency room doctor ordered confirmed the infection.
It’s important for your medical diagnosis to plainly link your injury to the tattoo. That should present no difficulites, especially if you haven’t had any prior or current injuries of that type.
For example, if you contracted hepatitis and you were perfectly healthy before the tattoo, your doctor’s diagnosis can trace or link the origin of the disease to the area of the tattoo. You also want to have your doctor’s prognosis for the treatment, which is required to combat the infection. Your doctor can tell you the duration of the treatment, permanency of the infection, and the approximate costs for future treatment.
Filing an Insurance Claim
Ask the tattoo parlor owner for his insurance company’s contact information. His initial reaction may be defensive, if not antagonistic. However if he complies, your next step is to directly contact the tattoo parlor’s insurance company and file your injury claim.
Don’t put off medical treatment until you hear from back from the insurance company. You must get treatment as a good faith effort to lessen the damages. If you do nothing and your health problems deteriorate, you may have a difficult time getting the insurance company to pay. More importantly, you must stop the infection from spreading.
After contacting the insurance company, you can expect a response from a claims adjuster within a week or two. Make sure the adjuster gives you a claim number.
The adjuster will discuss the incident with you and will likely ask your permission to record the conversation. Some say you shouldn’t permit a recording, but refusing may cause delays or other issues. Just make sure you’re honest and don’t allude to any contributory negligence on your part. Meaning, don’t say anything they can potentially use to deny their responsibility for your injury (ex. “Right after I got the tattoo I got it dirty playing in a pick-up basketball game.”)
The adjuster will then ask you to send copies of your medical bills, receipts for out-of-pocket expenses like medications, and if you’re unable to work, a written verification of your lost wages to date. At this point, it will be too early to enter into settlement negotiations. They’ll start after the adjuster has fully investigated your claim and your medical treatment has run its course.
Settlement Negotiations – Do you need an attorney?
The insurance adjuster will ask you to keep her advised during the course of your treatment. She may ask you to send copies of your medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and verification of your lost wages as they build up. That’s fine. Once you fully heal, you can begin to calculate your total settlement demand.
The method attorneys frequently use to calculate settlement demands is to take the total amount of their client’s medical bills and multiply them by anywhere from 2-5x, or even higher depending upon the severity of the client’s injury. That method will incorporate your demand for pain and suffering, also called emotional distress or mental anguish.
If your injury is minor, you can probably handle your own insurance claim. A minor injury might include a bacterial infection that the medicine cleared up within a week or so of the injury. If your injury is more serious, like hepatitis, tuberculosis, HIV, scarring, or resulted in lingering side effects, you must have legal representation.
Your attorney can file a lawsuit to subpoena the tattoo parlor’s records, employees’ qualifications, previously filed complaints from other customers, and other pertinent information necessary to pursue your claim successfully.
Further, your attorney can take the depositions (recorded interviews by both attorneys) of the tattoo parlor owner and his employees. Through using requests for production (of documents) and interrogatories (formal written questions), your attorney can ultimately know more about the tattoo parlor’s business than the owner himself.
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