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Ruling overturns $12 million defamation judgment against plastic surgery patient

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PHOENIX – A state appeals court Thursday overturned a jury’s verdict that a dissatisfied patient defamed two Scottsdale plastic surgeons through online postings and should pay $12 million in damages.

The ruling by the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One, said the 2011 judgment against jazz singer Sherry Petta and the amount of the award to Desert Palm Surgical Group wasn’t supported by adequate evidence and “shocks the conscience of this court.”

The appeals court remanded case to Maricopa County Superior Court for a new trial.

According to the ruling, Dr. Albert Carlotti performed cosmetic surgery on Petta’s nose and eyelids, and his wife, Dr. Michelle Cabret-Carlotti, performed laser-resurfacing treatments on Petta’s face.

Petta was unhappy with the results and claimed the procedure had burned and scarred her face. Healing was delayed and her nose developed residual thickening scar tissue.

As the doctor-patient relationship began to deteriorate, Petta started to consult other physicians, the ruling said. In September 2007 Carlotti refused to continue Petta’s care for a period of time due to her “screaming and using profanity” and her reliance on “unauthorized care.”

The doctors later performed surgery to remove some of the scar tissue from her nose. Petta explicitly conditioned her consent to removal of scar tissue and no shortening or alteration of her nose, the ruling said.

Photographic evidence at the trial found that Petta’s nose had been shortened and “turned up” by the surgery, according to the ruling.

Petta began posting statements on various consumer websites complaining about her experience under the physicians’ care and saying they were not “board certified,” the ruling said.

She also started a website in 2008 to critique the medical care she received, blaming the Carlottis for a skin infection she contracted after the nose job and calling herself their “victim,” the ruling said.

The Carlottis sued Petta for defamation, false light and invasion of privacy in May 2008 and demanded that she take down her website.

After a 10-day trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded $11 million in actual damages and $1 million in punitive damages.

“Although we trusted the jury in their decision, the evidence available did not justify the result,” Petta’s lawyer, Ryan Lorenz, said in a telephone interview.

Lorenz said the consent Petta provided didn’t allow the surgeons to operate in the manner they did.

“There is a noticeable deformity in her nose. It’s subtle but certainly noticeable,” he said.

The appeals court also overturned the trial judge’s pretrial ruling dismissing Petta’s counterclaim alleging medical battery. However, it affirmed the trial court’s denial of Petta’s motion that the plaintiffs’ case lacked sufficient evidence.

A message left at the office of the Carlottis’ attorney, Matthew J. Kelly, wasn’t returned by late Thursday afternoon.