Can you sue for a bad tattoo?

NakedLaw, Bizarre

Tattoos, once considered a mark of lowbrow culture by many, have become a fairly common and widely accepted form of self-expression. Men and women across the social and professional spectrum get tattooed as a badge of honor, a tribute to a loved one, a deeply felt belief, or perhaps simply in pursuit of that elusive status known as “cool.”

But before you let someone inject your skin with permanent ink, did you do your homework to ensure that you were dealing with a reputable establishment? Even experts make mistakes. What can you do if your tattoo was botched?

Did you read the fine print?

“Depending on the situation, a person can absolutely take legal steps for a botched tattoo,” says attorney Adam J. Zayed from the Zayed Law Offices in Chicago.

Your legal rights likely depend on the release forms you filled out at the tattoo parlor prior to the procedure. Attorneys stress that you thoroughly read and understand this paperwork before you sign. “Most will have waivers for artistic differences and attempt to waive most other legal rights,” says attorney Braden Perry of Kansas City law firm Kennyhertz Perry.

Zayed underscores this buyer-beware advice. “Some documents in tattoo parlors include presuming the risks of something going wrong or getting botched,” he says.

Did the procedure or tattoo cause injury?

“It’s important to know about the tattoo parlor’s sterilization practices and protocols,” says Zayed. The release forms you signed may make it difficult for you to sue for artistic reasons, but they probably didn’t release the shop from accountability for physical injuries, such as blistering, burning, or infections resulting from bad ink.

However, a bad physical reaction to a tattoo is not necessarily a result of the equipment or sanitation process used by the tattoo parlor. It could be that you have a particular sensitivity to the ink or needle. If your tender skin is to blame, you’re not likely to recover any damages.

Tattoo lawsuits are not uncommon

Reputable tattoo shops carry insurance—with good reason. Tattoo lawsuits are commonplace, particularly those that are based on injuries rather than regret or disappointment. “Your mistakes—spelling errors, mistaken translations of symbols—likely won’t be covered by insurance,” says Perry.

Here are some tattoo complaints and how to pursue redress:

“I don’t really like my tattoo.” If you’re unhappy with the aesthetics of the artist’s work — it just didn’t turn out the way you hoped it would — you’re probably not going to collect on any insurance claims. But it’s worth a shot: if the shop has insurance, your claim will be reviewed by the insurer and settled or rejected accordingly.

“The tattoo just sucks.” When the tattoo is of poor quality, and you think that the tattoo parlor did not provide you with the type of tattoo for which you paid, then you may be able to approach the issue as a breach of contract. In such a case, your recoverable damages would likely be no more than what you paid for the tattoo or what it will cost to have it fixed. Keep in mind that this sort of claim would require expert testimony by another professional in the industry.

“My tattoo hurts.” If your complaint is less about how the tattoo looks and more about the bodily harm you incurred, then it’s a different story. If you were actually injured by the tattooing process, then you most certainly should file a claim with the shop’s insurer. If the shop is not insured, you may have to file a case in small claims court. This is a good time to consider speaking with an attorney—most personal injury lawyers offer free consultations.

An ounce of prevention…

Perry advises that the best way to mitigate any issues is to avoid them in the first place, by doing some homework before getting inked. Is the shop insured? Does the artist willingly provide references? Also, thoroughly research what you want depicted in your tattoo and very clearly communicate your desired outcome to the artist (and maybe consult a friend or two for editing if you are tattooing words or phrases onto your body, lest this happens).

And if things still go sideways? Then you’ll need to consider your options. “These things vary from state to state,” says Zayed, “and generally speaking, you cannot release another person’s negligence in advance. If you are looking to move forward legally, talk to a local attorney within [the time limits of] your statute of limitations.”