Lasik MD patients allege nerve damage, file class action lawsuit
UPDATE: A Quebec court rejected this legal action in November 2020, ruling that it does not meet the criteria of a class-action lawsuit. Read more about that decision here.
TORONTO -- At least two Canadians are suing a national chain of laser eye surgery clinics and asking others to join them after they developed a rare and extremely painful complication.
Christopher Ouellet and Krystel Terzian were supposed to see better following the popular elective procedure, but they allege the cornea operation performed at Lasik MD clinics instead triggered unrelenting eye pain. Ouellet is the lead plaintiff in the new first-of-its-kind class action lawsuit.
“It completely ruined my life. It destroyed everything. It made me lose my job. It made me lose the things I like to do in life,” said Ouellet. The pain has made him contemplate suicide at times, he added. “I want justice, compensation and I want them to pay for what they did to me and the others. And they're going to pay.”
Lasik, which is short for laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis, involves using a laser to cut a flap in the cornea to reshape the surface and sharpen the patient’s eyesight, but Ouellet and Terzian, both of whom appear to suffer from a rare condition called “corneal neuralgia,” said they were never warned. The lawsuit alleges the company “failed in their legal obligation to adequately inform” appellant patients of the risks. None of the allegations have been proven in court.
“Nowhere in my contract was is it written that I could get this. If I knew that I could get burning pain almost 24-7 for the rest of my life because of Lasik, I would not have done it,” said Terzian. “There are some days where it was really, really bad. There were some days where I didn’t want to wake up because I knew I would just be in pain all the time.”
Lasik MD told CTV National News that no medical procedure is “100 per cent risk-free” and that patients are indeed informed of potential risks ahead of the procedure. The company is a national provider of laser vision with over 30 clinics in nine provinces in Canada and has performed over 20 million procedures in North America over the last 25 years.
“Complications with Lasik are very rare -- occurring in less than 1 per cent of patients -- and the vast majority are treatable,” company spokeswoman Jodie Singer said in an email. “Unfortunately, we cannot comment on pending litigation or the specifics of any patient’s case.”
The risk of developing corneal neuralgia was added to some consent forms following a CTV News and W5 investigation into the case last year. The condition, which is sometimes misdiagnosed as dry eye, is considered a “new and ill-defined disease” characterized by a burning sensation or severe eye pain that may be caused when the nerves in the cornea are damaged. Treatment options are not readily available in Canada because it is experimental and costly, making it difficult for Terzian and Ouellet to receive help.
"It is hard to find someone who knows how to treat you and the treatments cost a lot. A lot of us don’t have the money to pay for it,” said Terzian. “I have spent $4,000 in the last year trying treatments that don’t work."
The lawsuit asks for upwards of for $400,000 in damages, including a $3,550 reimbursement for the surgery, $25,000 for trouble and inconvenience, $100,000 in “moral damages,” and $200,000 for loss of work.
“This is what we would be asking for each class member who comes forward and who has developed corneal neuralgia following their surgery,” said the appellants’ lawyer Joey Zukran.
Ouellet said he wanted to launch the lawsuit in part to raise awareness for other people who may be suffering in silence or have been dismissed by their doctors.
“We would like also to raise awareness in the medical community that corneal neuralgia exists, that it is not in our head, that it is not dry eye,” he said. “It’s because they don’t know about this disease so we want to raise awareness in the medical field so that the people know about this and know that we are not crazy, know that it is an extreme complication.”
Former patient Merryl Thiré also plans on joining the lawsuit. She had the surgery six years ago and after the pain became too much, she quit her job and moved back to France. She wears sunglasses whenever she is outside because her eyes are too sensitive.
“I could see no other way than dying at a point because just keeping my eyes open was so painful,” she said. “I hope there can be other… class action lawsuits maybe in the United States (and) in other countries.”
The new suit was launched in Quebec but is open to patients across the country.