Tattoo Injuries: Get Fair Compensation for Tattoos and Piercings Gone Wrong

How to file an injury claim with a negligent tattoo parlor’s insurance company. Don’t settle for less if you’ve suffered from a botched tattoo or piercing.

Nearly one in four Americans sport a tattoo, and among Millennials, that proportion rises to half. The tattoo and body piercing industry earns two billion dollars annually, with continued growth expected for many years to come.¹

Millennials also lead the way in body piercings, with almost one in four having a piercing somewhere other than an earlobe.²

Along with the increase in tattoo parlors is a corresponding increase in infections and injuries.

If a negligent tattoo shop has injured you, you have the right to expect fair compensation for your injuries, pain, and emotional distress.

Most tattoo businesses carry liability insurance to protect themselves from personal injury claims. Here’s what you need to know to build a successful injury claim when a tattoo or body piercing goes wrong.

Popular Forms of Body Modification

Twenty years ago tattoos were mainly associated with drunken sailors and motorcycle gangs. Now, most types of body modifications are socially acceptable. Tattoos and piercings have gone mainstream.

The most popular forms of body modification are:

Tattoos: Tattooing is a form of body modification where repeated needle punctures are made to insert inks, dyes, or other pigments into the dermis layer of the skin to create a design.

Cosmetic tattoos: Also called permanent makeup, cosmetic tattoos are also applied by using needles to insert ink into the skin. Cosmetic tattoos are used to create or enhance eyebrows, as permanent eyeliner, and to define lip lines. Cosmetic tattooing may be used after breast reconstruction to create the appearance of an areola and nipple.

Piercings: Body piercing is the practice of puncturing a body part to create an opening for the insertion of jewelry such as studs, rings, hoops, and barbells. Ear piercing outside of the earlobe is called high-cartilage piercings. Earlobe piercings can be stretched to create large holes to accommodate disc-type jewelry.

What to Know Before Getting 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. The saying goes, “Good tattoos aren’t cheap, and cheap tattoos aren’t good.”

We’re not just talking about design. Think about your health and safety before submitting to a tattoo or body piercing.

Licensing: Be sure the shop is a legitimate, registered business in your state.

Certification: The tattoo artist should have completed safety courses on blood-borne pathogens (like AIDS and Hepatitis).

Alcohol: Avoid drinking before getting a tattoo or piercing. Alcohol thins your blood and will increase bleeding during the process.

Allergies: Talk to your tattoo artist before the process starts if you are allergic to hair dyes, cheap jewelry, or other skin irritants. You may be at higher risk of a reaction to colored tattoo dyes.

Advice: When a tattoo artist is reluctant to give you that tattoo, take the time to think about it. For example, many reputable artists will refuse to tattoo a young girl’s face or place a first-time tattoo in a highly conspicuous place.

Aftercare: You’re responsible for good aftercare of a tattoo or piercing to avoid complications. You can’t go swimming or tanning for some time after a tattoo, so don’t get one at the beach, or before your Bermuda honeymoon.

Regret: The only effective way to remove a tattoo is by cutting it out of the skin, laser surgery, or dermabrasion (essentially grinding away the layers of skin). Tattoo removal is expensive, painful, and should only be done by a dermatologist or plastic surgeon.

Tattoo Parlor Injuries and Complications

Faced with a rapidly growing number of young adults getting inked and pierced, and dealing with related infections and injuries, the American Association of Pediatricians (AAP)  has recently issued its first report on Adolescent and Young Adult Tattooing, Piercing, and Scarification.

The AAP report educates medical professionals on the injuries and complications often seen in patients of all ages with recent body modifications.

Complications of tattoos and body piercing include:

  • Local infections: Viral, bacterial and fungal infections affecting the site
  • Inflammation: Sensitivity to tattoo pigments or body jewelry can lead to swelling, pustules, nodules, and scarring
  • Systemic infections: Infections from blood-borne pathogens such as hepatitis C, hepatitis B, and HIV.
  • Hematoma: Blood may collect or clot in the tissue traumatized by piercings

Severe infections are often treatable but may lead to secondary complications like endocarditis (infection of the heart lining and valves), spinal abscesses, gangrene, and amputations.

Causes of body modification injuries:

  • Re-used needles
  • Improper handwashing
  • Equipment not sterilized
  • Tattoo artist or piercing tech failed to wear gloves
  • Tattoo artist or piercing tech failed to discuss the client’s medical history, allergies, or tendency to scar
  • Tattoo artist or piercing tech had a transmittable illness
  • Tattoo artist or piercing tech failed to use sterile procedures
  • Accident with needles or piercing guns

Tattoo Parlor Slip and Fall Accidents

Just like any other business, the owner of a tattoo parlor has an obligation to provide a safe environment for customers. The owner may be liable for injuries caused by hazards on the property, such as:

  • Spilled liquids on the floor
  • Cracked or uneven pavement on sidewalks or parking areas
  • Snow and ice
  • Broken or malfunctioning furniture or equipment

Learn how to get the compensation you deserve for Injury Claims on Business Property.

When the Tattoo Parlor is Liable

When is a bad tattoo not the fault of the tattoo parlor? When it’s a matter of taste.

If you walked out of the shop happy, and your new tattoo healed up nicely, you can’t blame the tattoo parlor if you start hating the design. Or if your parents flipped out when they saw it, or you don’t want your new lover to see your ex’s name on your arm.

Infection or other injuries related to a recent body modification can be a legitimate reason to seek compensation from the tattoo shop’s insurance company. To build a successful insurance claim, it helps to understand some legal terms used by insurance adjusters:

Duty of Care means the shop owner’s obligation to be careful and avoid causing harm to others.

Negligence happens when someone fails to act responsibly or does something no reasonable person would do.

Liability means responsibility. The at-fault business is usually liable for the injured victim’s damages.

Damages for tattoo or piercing injuries include medical treatment and surgical repair costs, out-of-pocket medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

The insurance company won’t automatically accept your injury claim and pay a fair settlement. It’s up to you to show:

  • The tattoo shop owed you a duty of care
  • The tattoo shop was negligent
  • The shop’s negligence caused your injuries
  • You didn’t do anything to cause your injuries
  • Your injuries are medically confirmed

Building a Strong Insurance Claim

You will need good evidence to prove the tattoo parlor is responsible for your injuries. Take immediate action and begin to gather evidence as soon as you’re aware of a problem. Redness, swelling, and signs of infection can begin to appear within a few days of your tattoo or piercing.

Contact the shop owner: The sooner you contact the tattoo shop owner, the better. For each day that goes by, the shop owner and insurance company are more likely to argue that your injury is unrelated to your tattoo or piercing.

Tell the tattoo parlor’s owner your tattoo or piercing resulted in an injury. Tell the owner you did nothing to create or aggravate the injury. Ask for the shop’s insurance company name and contact information.

Seek medical attention: If you are having a severe skin reaction, pain, infection, or symptoms of systemic infections like hepatitis, don’t wait to see your doctor, go to an urgent care center or visit the hospital emergency room. Untreated infections can quickly become life-threatening.

Be sure to tell your medical provider when and where you had a body modification, and the after-care routine you followed. You’ll need your medical records to prove your injuries came from a tattoo or piercing.

Photographic evidence:  Take plenty of pictures of the tattoo or piercing. It’s important to have visual proof of infections, swelling, scarring, and other abnormalities.

Paperwork: Keep copies of all your medical bills and records, receipts for out-of-pocket expenses, and any paperwork you have from the tattoo parlor.

Challenges to Your Injury Claim

After contacting the insurance company, you can expect a response from a claims adjuster within a week or two. The adjuster will discuss the incident with you and will likely ask your permission to record the conversation.

If you agree to give a recorded interview, keep in mind the adjuster will be looking for an excuse to deny your claim. Insurance adjusters are trained to get you to say things they can use against you.

Admissions against interest: When you say anything that minimizes the severity of your injury, removes blame from the tattoo parlor, or suggests you might have made your injury worse, it can work against your claim. For example:

  • “I’m fine, thanks. How are you?”
  • “I’m sure Sam didn’t mean to hurt me.”
  • “The area was red and swollen, but I didn’t want to take the time to see a doctor until after the holiday.”
  • “I probably should have had it looked at sooner.”
  • “The day after I got the tattoo, I got it dirty playing football. But I washed it after the game.”

Assumption of risk: The insurance company may argue that you knew what could happen if you got a tattoo or piercing and decided to do it anyway. Their argument would be stronger if you signed a waiver of liability, meaning you agreed in writing not the seek money from the tattoo parlor if there’s a problem.

Contributory or comparative negligence: Your injury claim may be denied or reduced if the insurance company decides you are partially to blame for your injury, or you did something to make your injury worse.

Don’t let the insurance company trick you. You have the right to consult a personal injury attorney before giving a recorded statement.

When an Attorney Will Help You Win

If you’ve fully recovered from minor injuries like a small area of infection that cleared quickly, or a sprain from a slip-and-fall in the tattoo parlor lobby, you can probably negotiate a fair settlement directly with the insurance company.

Calculate a fair settlement amount by totaling the cost of your medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and lost wages. Add one or two times that amount for your pain and suffering.

Put your demand in writing and enclose copies of your bills, receipts, and lost earnings statement.

Look like a pro with this sample Personal Injury Demand Letter.

No matter if you suffered a slip-and-fall, a purulent tattoo, or a piercing that went horribly wrong, you’d need help to get a fair amount of compensation for a severe injury claim. Insurance companies routinely offer low-ball settlements to seriously injured claimants who don’t have an attorney.

They know if they blame you for your injuries, or say you waived your rights, you probably won’t have the energy or the legal savvy to fight back.

Don’t settle for less. There’s no obligation, and it costs nothing to find out what a skilled personal injury attorney can do for you.

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>