Doctor shoots Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) into patient's eye, causing permanent damage. $213K. San Luis Obispo County.


Patient's left eye is damaged during elective Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) procedure.   

The Case

  • Case Name: Joanna Anderson and Chris L. Anderson v. Joseph Douglas Bettencourt, M.D., and DOE 1-25
  • Court and Case Number: San Luis Obispo County Superior Court / CV 138309
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Monday, December 05, 2016
  • Type of Case: Loss of Consortium, Medical Malpractice
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Donald G. Umhofer (Ret. – Temporarily Assigned)
  • Plaintiffs:
    Joanna Anderson, 34.
    Chris L. Anderson, 47.
  • Defendants:
    Joseph Douglas Bettencourt, M.D.
  • Type of Result: Settlement at Trial

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $213,000
  • Settlement Amount: $275,000 (after verdict and before appeal)
  • Economic Damages:


  • Non-Economic Damages:

    $66,000 (includes $8,000 loss-of-consortium award)

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 15 days.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 5 hours.
  • Jury Polls: 12-0 on causation.
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: Plaintiffs agreed to waive their rights to costs of proof sanctions (re: causation) and their rights to appeal, and defendant agreed to an accelerated payment time-frame.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    The Law Offices of Rhett T. Francisco by Rhett T. Francisco, Woodland Hills.

    Law Office of Thomas G. Adams by Thomas G. Adams, Ventura.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Hall, Hieatt & Connely, LLP by Mark B. Connely and Stephanie A. Bowen, San Luis Obispo.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Douglas Mackenzie, M.D. plastic surgery, Santa Barbara. (Retained and treating expert doctor.)

    Matthew T. Talarico, M.D., family medicine, San Luis Obispo. (Treating expert doctor.)

    Christopher S. Hulburd, M.D., ophthalmology, San Luis Obispo.  (Treating expert doctor.)

    Ralph D. Levinson, M.D., ophthalmology, UCLA. (Treating expert doctor.)

    Katherina E. Coffron, Ph.D., LMFT, L.P.C.C., Paso Robles. (Treating expert psychologist.)

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Asa D. Morton, M.D., ophthalmology, San Diego. (Performed Defense Medical Examination.)

    David G. Frecker, M.D., neurology, Santa Barbara.


Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    On March 20, 2013, plaintiff Joanna Anderson underwent an elective cosmetic procedure referred to as “Intense Pulse Light” (“IPL”) therapy, performed by defendant Dr. Joseph Douglas Bettencourt at M.D. Spa & Laser, Inc. Plaintiffs contended that Dr. Bettencourt negligently applied IPL on or near Joanna Anderson’s left eye, causing severe damage including iritis, left eye pain, synechiae, transillumination defects, photophobia, left-side headaches, reduced left-eye field of vision, and bouts of raised intraocular pressure.

    Dr. Bettencourt did not take any steps to shield Joanna’s eyes or otherwise provide Joanna with protective eyewear at any time before or during the procedure. As a foreseeable result, Dr. Bettencourt shot the IPL through Joanna’s left eyelid and into her left eye.

    Plaintiff Chris Anderson filed a loss of consortium claim for loss of love and support that his wife, Joanna, was able to provide to him before injuries.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That Dr. Bettencourt violated the standard of care governing the use of IPL devices and he ignored instructions and warnings provided to him by the IPL device manufacturer.

    That after defendant shot the IPL into plaintiff’s eye, he attempted to hide his fault. After plaintiff requested her medical records from Dr. Bettencourt, he initially provided her with blank, generic intake forms that he uses in his medical practice. It was not until plaintiff sought the help of an attorney that Dr. Bettencourt turned over her medical records.


  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Prior to trial, Dr. Bettencourt admitted that he was negligent in not having plaintiff wear protective eye wear, and the case proceeded to trial on causation, extent of injury and damages.

    Defendant contended that he never refused to provide the plaintiff with her medical records.

    Defendant conceded that plaintiff suffered from some iritis which resolved in a couple of months, but otherwise disputed the claimed injuries.

    Defendant introduced evidence at trial showing that she elected to undergo a voluntary rhinoplasty and cheek implant procedure eight months after her alleged injury, and also introduced both testimony and photographs showing that Mrs. Anderson was at an off-road race in Fallon, Nevada in over 100 degrees heat, wearing only sunglasses and no hat, and passing out water to participants in the race.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Although eye injuries from IPL treatments were (and, to a large extent, still are) relatively new, plaintiff's injuries are the same injuries that the IPL manufacturer warns against, and they are the same injuries that are detailed in the medical literature. Joanna’s injuries include iritis, left eye pain, synechiae, transillumination defects, photophobia, left-side headaches, reduced left-eye field of vision, and bouts of raised intraocular pressure. Joanna was prescribed a number of medications, including dilating drops and steroid drops (prednisolone) and pain relievers (including Nevanac). Joanna’s initial iritis cleared up about two months after the initial injury and her visual acuity was normal, but Joanna continued to suffer from left eye pain, synechiae, transillumination defects, photophobia, glare issues, dark-light adaptation problems, left-side headaches, and occasional bouts of raised intraocular pressure.

    In the days following the IPL treatment, Joanna’s condition grew worse. She experienced severe pain and light sensitivity, which triggered debilitating headaches. The pain was so severe that Joanna was forced to remain in her room in the dark much of the day with shades and the blinds drawn, unable to withstand virtually any light exposure to her eye. Because the anatomy and function of human eyes is such that the left eye and the right eye work together (bilaterally) and experience the same effects, Joanna’s left eye injuries affected her right eye.  That is, Joanna could not escape her photophobia/light sensitivity, even if she wore a patch on her left eye. 

    Joanna promptly sought medical treatment from eye specialists, starting with Dr. Christopher Hulburd, M.D., an Ophthalmology specialist at Pacific Eye in Paso Robles. Joanna sought treatment from Dr. Hulburd on at least five separate occasions. However, he was unable to provide a fix for the ongoing pain and photophobia she was continuing to experience. Shortly thereafter, when it was clear the photophobia and pain were not subsiding, Joanna sought additional treatment from a wide array of health care professionals in a range of specialties, including pain, neurology, and Ophthalmology. Her consultations included physicians associated with the Jules Stein Eye Institute, UCLA pain management specialists, and specialists at the University of Miami’s Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. She received a number of consultations, examinations and prescriptions. Unfortunately, the consensus of the eye specialists was that Joanna’s injuries are permanent.

    Joanna’s life has largely been reduced to spending the majority of her time in artificially darkened parts of her home with blinds and curtains drawn to avoid the entry of natural light.

  • Before being injured by Dr. Bettencourt, Joanna was industrious and worked a number of jobs at any one time, including part-time promotional modeling/marketing and sales, part-time to full-time in a contracting business, and part-time to full-time in a small cotton-candy manufacturing and delivery business that she started and developed. The cotton-candy business supplied retail food chains. Joanna also took care of various home-based responsibilities, such as cleaning the home, cleaning the pool, and mowing the lawn/gardening. 

    Since being injured, Joanna has been effectively unable to work or take part in her normal day-to-day activities.

    Joanna’s injuries, especially her photophobia/light sensitivity, have required Joanna and Chris to employ help with housekeeping, cleaning the pool, mowing the lawn/gardening, driving, and basic errands. 

    Joanna’s loss of ability to do things that were part of her everyday life has taken its toll on her psychologically, and it has placed pressure on her marital relationship. She continues to experience emotional pain and suffering as a result of the injuries and the extreme limitations it has placed on her ability to live her life as she did before Dr. Bettencourt injured her. Joanna has participated in, and continues to participate in, therapeutic psychology treatment with a licensed therapist for the emotional trauma her limitations have caused her.  

     Joanna is now extremely limited in the quality time she can spend with Chris. By extension, Chris has suffered a diminished experience of marital consortium because of Joanna’s injuries.

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $474,999.98
  • Defendant §998 Offer: $100,000

Additional Notes

In closing argument, defendant suggested that the jury award Plaintiffs $10,000.

In closing argument, plaintiffs asked the jury to award them more than $1,000,000.

Insurer: The Doctors Company