Hair salon giants Toni & Guy have agreed a five-figure damages settlement with a women who suffered chemical burns and was left with a permanent bald patch after undergoing treatment on her 21st birthday.
Becca Peet said she was left ‘squirming in agony’ during the treatment at the Toni & Guy salon in Alton, Hampshire.
She had been hoping to change her hair colour from dark to blonde with highlights ready for her birthday celebrations that evening, but as the treatment was applied she ‘began to feel burning to the side of her head’.
She suffered a ‘full thickness chemical burn’, causing her skin to blister, seep pus, crust and become infected.
Such was the extent of the damage caused, Becca had to attend Winchester Hospital Accident and Emergency Department after leaving the salon halfway through her treatment.
She later had to undergo an operation to remove the infected burn, leaving her with a permanent bald patch and a 9cm surgical scar.
Injuries had massive impact on life and confidence
Becca, now 24, says the incident and her subsequent injuries had a massive impact on her life, saying she’d spent many a night crying herself to sleep.
“It has been absolutely horrendous and after it happened I wasn’t just in pain, I was tearful all of the time and left very self-conscious about how I looked because of the bald patch and scar on my scalp,” she said.
“In the weeks afterwards I was in constant pain from my scalp and severe headaches. My hair started sticking to the pus and scabs that were forming on my scalp due to infection and I moving my face or changing my facial expression moved my scalp and worsened the pain.
“The open infected wound on my scalp was also causing a nasty odour which was very embarrassing for me, and the pain stopped me sleeping. My boyfriend had to put cream on my burn for about eight months and wash and help me untangle my hair because it became knotted with the pus and scabs on the wound. This took over an hour each time. It was horrendous.
“One day when I was washing my hair it began to fall out in clumps. I opened my eyes in disbelief as there were clumps of hair in my hands. I screamed and cried as it was then that I actually realised how much hair I was losing. It was extremely distressing.
“For a long time afterwards I was often very tearful and would pour out my emotions to either my mother or my boyfriend. For around six months I avoided going out where possible, because I was self-conscious about my hair being all knotted and matted by the pus from the wound and about the odour that the wound caused.
“A year later I had to have the surgery because the wound kept getting infected. For the operation, they cut out the middle of wound with the infection, pulled both sides of my scalp together and sewed it up, causing the most pain I have ever felt in my life.
“I again had severe pain and headaches after the surgery and I laid awake most nights crying in agony. I could not wash my hair properly and I felt disgusting and utterly miserable. The skin on my head felt so tight, the aching went down into my jaw. I was unable to move my face.
“Even today I feel that I am restricted in the number of possible hairstyles I can have, because some hairstyles are more likely to reveal the bald patch on my head. If I go outside and it is windy, I worry that the wind will blow the hair across and expose the bald patch. I still feel tearful sometimes.
“If I choose to have my hair up when I go out, I find that I am always looking in any available mirror to check that the bald patch is not exposed.
“I still get headaches or feelings of soreness and tightness in the area of my scalp a couple of times a week. If the weather is cold it is worse, particularly when walking outside, because in the area where the burn occurred, the skin is now very thin and there is no hair.
Legal case alleged errors in treatment mixture and failure to realise damage being caused
As part of her case against the salon through personal injury specialists Hudgell Solicitors, it was alleged that a trainee member of staff had wrongly mixed the treatment, leading to it causing the burns.
It was also alleged that staff failed to realise the damage being caused quickly enough, causing further pain by failing to remove foils and further adding to the pain by applying hot water and blow drying the hair.
Staff in the Toni & Guy salon apologised to Becca on the day, a qualified hairdresser herself.They told her no payment would be required and sent her a bouquet of flowers the following day.
However, when a legal case was subsequently launched against the salon after Becca contacted Hudgell Solicitors for support, the salon dragged matters out over three-and-a-half years before finally agreeing to pay her a ‘without prejudice’ five-figure sum in damages through its insurers.
When I was having the colouring done my head suddenly felt like it was touching a hot pan that just kept getting hotter and hotter. The foils were steaming and I said that it was burning and asked the girl to stop. She said ‘no it’s fine’ but I said I need to get this off now. The pain was so bad I was squirming in the chair.
Eventually, I was taken to the sink and the foils were pulled out. Another girl then washed out the product but it hurt as the water was too hot. My head was numb, like when you burn yourself with an iron and you initially experience a numb sensation.
Despite being in obvious pain, staff still applied toner to the young woman’s hair before washing it and shampooing it. Conditioner was than applied and staff started to blow dry her hair.
The blow dryer made my head feel hot and sore and I stopped them.
They said they would not charge me for the treatment and apologised. I left and was crying when I called my boyfriend to come and pick me up. He drove me straight to my sister’s house and when she looked through my hair she said immediately that she could see blisters that were bursting.
Becca went to A&E at Winchester Hospital, where she was diagnosed as having suffered chemical burns. Dressing could not be applied at the time however because the wound was covered by hair.
Originally from America, Becca had moved to the UK in August 2012 and says her injuries have had a long-lasting impact on her enjoyment of life.
She has been left constantly worried about her bald patch being exposed and she revealed she no longer wanted to be a hairdresser herself, and now works at a children’s nursery.
Business criticised as damages offered without admissions of error
Becca criticised the hair salon giant for its handling of the situation. She said: “Since that day I’ve gone through so much. For three-and-a-half years Toni & Guy have denied being at fault for this.
“Finally they have paid me damages for my suffering but it can never take away the pain and stress they caused me. Lucky for them, it’s over now, but for me, I will now have to live with this bald spot for the rest of my life that still gets sore. I hope nobody else has to go through the same kind of suffering I have.”
Matt Tuff, a personal injury claims specialist at Hudgell Solicitors who handled the case at Hudgell Solicitors, said:
We are glad that Toni & Guy have finally agreed to damages for our client for her pain and suffering, and the impact these injuries have had on her.
It was disappointing though that in the wake of her injuries, Toni & Guy tried to suggest that her injuries may have been suffered elsewhere. They even went to the length of asking to see bank and credit card statements, suggesting she may have paid for treatment elsewhere after being at their salon.
The reality of the situation is she went to their salon injury free and left with chemical burns and scars for life. She entered the salon at 9.30am for her appointment and by midday she was in hospital.
The staff in the salon apologised and sent her flowers, but then the business dragged the legal case out. Perhaps they wanted to prevent the matter becoming public, but in dragging this out they have made our client more determined to share her story, and how disappointed and angry she has been with their handling of the matter.
We often find people who suffer injuries often want an apology and an admission of error more than anything else. In this case, there has been no admission but an offered damages settlement to bring the matter to a conclusion, which she has decided to take to finally be able to move on.
Our client’s frustration is totally understandable, but we are glad she has been compensated in the end.