If you choose to visit a tanning salon, can you sue for...

If you choose to visit a tanning salon, can you sue for skin cancer?


WASHINGTON, May 25, 2014 — With Memorial Day comes the summer season and the desire to have a sun kissed, brown skinned, health tan.  Only tans from the sun or from tanning salons are harmful. A tan acquired from either of these means your skin cells have been damaged.

When the tan comes from a tanning salon and it leads to cancer, what are your rights?

There is no longer any medical debate. Tanning salons are dangerous. When you expose yourself to ultraviolet radiation used in tanning salons, you increase your risk of developing skin cancer.

According to Alan Geller of the Harvard School of Public Health, a leading skin cancer researcher:

“About 40 uses of a tanning bed during one’s lifetime elevates one’s risk of melanoma about 55%, so if you do the math, it means basically a 1-1/2 % extra risk for melanoma for each time you use it.”

The average person’s risk of getting melanoma is about 1 percent. Each tanning session adds 1-1/2 percent to that risk.

The World Health Organization says ultraviolet tanning devices cause cancer in people. Their scientists placed ultraviolet tanning beds on their list of the “most dangerous forms of cancer-causing radiation.”

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The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies indoor tanning as a “Class 1” carcinogen.

Skin cancer falls into two groups: non-melanoma and melanoma. There are three types of cancer associated with exposure to the sun or tanning salon UV rays.

The first, melanoma, can cause death. Melanoma is typically a malignant tumor.

The second, basal cell carcinoma, is the most common type of skin cancer. While it rarely metastasizes or kills, some consider it malignant.

The third involves squamous cells, which are the main part of the epidermis of the skin. A cancer in these cells is not classified as malignant, however, unsightly bumps can occur and treatment can include extensive surgeries.

From the Melanoma Foundation of New England:

Melanoma rates are increasing faster than nearly all other cancers with an epidemic growth rate of 3% annually.

In 2012, an estimated 76,250 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed, with approximately 9100 deaths yearly from the malignant melanoma and another 3000 deaths from non-melanoma skin cancers.

More than one person dies every hour from melanoma.

The website skincancer.org indicates that people who use tanning salons are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors. Their statistics include findings that there is an “alarming” rise in melanoma among people aged 18 to 39 over the past 40 years, citing a study that says that rates of this potentially deadly skin cancer grew by 800 percent among young women and 400 percent among young men.

Tanning salons became popular in the U.S. in the 1970’s. There are now about 19,000 salons nationwide, and about 30 million people regularly use them each year. About 71% of these patrons are girls and women aged 16-29. Medical authorities agree that beginning tanning before age 35 subjects the tanner to a 75% increase in lifetime risk of developing melanoma.

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What are your legal rights if you develop skin cancer after using a tanning salon? You could potentially sue for compensation.

To begin, a primer in personal injury negligence law is necessary. There must be negligence. Someone had to do something wrong.

The law in every state requires that to be compensated for an injury, there must be findings that:

  1. A duty was owed to the injured party;
  2. A breach of the duty occurred; and
  3. The injury complained of was caused by the breach.

Because tanning is dangerous, the salons have a duty to protect their patrons. Thus, number 1 above is satisfied. To satisfy numbers 2 and 3, a patron must show the salon did something wrong (and that it was not the sun) that led to cancer. Thereafter, the tanner must disprove claims that will certainly be raised that he or she did not participate in the development of the cancer.

What knowledge did the tanner have about the potential danger of getting on that tanning bed?

Defenses to negligence claims commonly include assertions that the injured party either contributed to the injury, which in some jurisdictions will bar any recovery and which in others will reduce the amount of the recovery, or, that the injured party assumed the risk of the injury.

Laws differ by state about what warnings salons must provide. The more comprehensive the warnings given, and the more frequent the warnings (one time when you first go to the salon vs. every session), the more difficult it becomes to make a successful claim for injury.

The warning issue and what you knew are crucial issues. It will be difficult for you to successfully sue the salon if they can prove they told you and you knew about the potential risks.

Despite being warned, some claims might succeed if there was faulty equipment at the salon. Most tanning beds operate on a timer, however, the exposure to ultraviolet rays can vary based on the age and type of light bulbs.

Some might argue that tanning is addictive. Tanning has been associated with relaxation and endorphin release. It can be argued that these positive effects can lead to addictive behavior despite the common-sense awareness of the damaging effects on the skin. The potential problem with claiming tanning is addictive is that everything is potentially addictive, leading to the finding that it was the tanner, and not the salon, that was responsible for the problem. Addictive behavior accounts for many problems including those from excess food, sex, tobacco, or even riding a motorcycle. Many people get back on after falling off, even when they are badly injured.

Be forewarned.  Use sunless tanning options:  creams, lotions, gels, pump sprays, aerosols or wipes.  No damage to your skin, no need for a lawsuit.

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