Who Is Liable For A Tattoo Gone Wrong?

Thinking about ink? You’re not the only one. In recent decades, tattoos have become less of a controversial method of self-expression. They are no longer reserved for gang members, soldiers, or sailors. In fact, 45 million Americans have at least one tattoo.

A tattoo is a unique work of art.  Designs range from simple black outlines to multi-colored, intricate pieces that take up an entire body part. While tattoos are still considered controversial in professional circles, they are becoming more and more prevalent. Many people are finally considering getting that tattoo they always wanted.

Regardless of how you feel about tattoos, it’s important to acknowledge that there are some risks. And we don’t just mean the risk of a job rejection! The biggest risk with tattoos is infection.

Many people don’t realize that tattoos are essentially open wounds. To create the tattoo, the artist uses an electrically-powered machine, which looks — and sounds — like a dental drill. A needle in the machine moves up and down, puncturing the skin. It can puncture the skin between 50 and 3,000 times per minute! As the needle punctures the skin, it inserts ink pigmentation into the skin’s dermis. This is what gives the tattoo its color. If you pricked your skin with a sewing needle, you would see blood and a small puncture wound. Tattoos are no different. Though they are an exciting piece of body art, tattoos are also wounds that need rigorous care.

The Standard of Care in Tattoo Shops

To prevent infections or other injuries, the tattoo artist is expected to abide by a certain standard of care. This includes:

  • Asking the customer about their medical history, including any allergies or current medications
  • Verifying that the customer is over the age of 18 or has parental consent
  • Conspicuously displaying safety and health certificates
  • Using a new and sterile needle on each customer
  • Wearing sterile gloves during the tattooing process
  • Giving thorough and adequate aftercare advice to the customer

If a tattoo shop or artist does not provide adequate care, they may be liable for any injuries that occur as a result of their negligent actions. However, most infections or injuries occur during the aftercare process, which means that a lot of the blames often falls on the customer themselves. Tattoo aftercare is relatively straightforward. It includes things like cleaning the area every day, using a fresh and clean washcloth to dry the tattoo, avoiding baths, pools, and the ocean, and applying special antibacterial ointment. With proper care, a tattoo usually heals within a few weeks.

The Risks

When the instructions aren’t followed, the result can be serious. At best, the tattoo could heal improperly, leading to issue with the coloring or shape. At worst, a serious infection could result. This recently happened to a man in Dallas, Texas. Five days after getting a tattoo on his leg, he went swimming in the Gulf of Mexico.  He was exposed to vibro vulnificus. This is also known as  a  flesh-eating bacterium. The bacteria then entered his bloodstream through his healing tattoo, and he died after contracting sepsis in the hospital. He also had a chronic liver condition, which likely made his situation worse.

It’s unknown if his tattoo artist warned him about the dangers of swimming with a healing tattoo. If the artist did warn him, and the man went swimming anyway, the artist is likely absolved of any liability. However, if the artist did not warn him about the danger of swimming with a healing wound, he might have violated the standard of care. This is clearly a rare case of tattooing gone wrong, but it can lead to an important conversation about proper care.

Do you have a tattoo? What’s your best healing advice?


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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