Maynard -v- West Midlands Regional Health Authority; HL 1985

References: [1985] 1 WLR 685, [1985] 1 All ER 635
Coram: Lord Scarman
The test of professional negligence is the standard of the ordinary skilled man exercising and professing to have that special skill. Lord Scarman said: ‘a doctor who professes to exercise a special skill must exercise the ordinary skill must exercise the ordinary skill of his specialty. Differences of opinion and practice exist, and will always exist, in the medical as in other professions. There is seldom any one answer exclusive of all others to problems of professional judgment. A court may prefer one body of opinion to another: but that is no basis for conclusion of negligence’.
As to evidence of what constitutes evidence of professional standards, Lord Scarman said: ‘A judge’s ‘preference’ for one body of distinguished professional opinion to another also professionally distinguished is not sufficient to establish negligence in a practitioner whose actions have received the seal of approval of those whose opinions, truthfully expressed, honestly held, were not preferred. If this was the real reason for the judge’s finding, he erred in law even though elsewhere in his judgment he stated the law correctly. For in the realm of diagnosis and treatment negligence is not established by preferring one respectable body of professional opinion to another. Failure to exercise the ordinary skill of a doctor (in the appropriate speciality, if he be a specialist) is necessary.’
Lord Scarman said: ‘A case which is based on an allegation that a fully considered decision of two consultants in the field of their special skill was negligent clearly presents certain difficulties of proof. It is not enough to show that there is a body of competent professional opinion which considers that theirs was a wrong decision, if there also exists a body of professional opinion, equally competent, which supports the decision as reasonable in the circumstances. It is not enough to show that subsequent events show that the operation need never have been performed, if at the time the decision to operate was taken it was reasonable in the sense that a responsible body of medical opinion would have accepted it as proper.’
This case cites:

  • Cited – Bolam -v- Friern Hospital Management Committee QBD ([1957] 1 WLR 582, [1957] 2 All ER 118)
    Negligence was alleged against a doctor.
    Held: McNair J directed the jury: ‘Where some special skill is exercised, the test for negligence is not the test of the man on the Clapham omnibus, because he has not got this special skill. The test . .
  • Adopted – Hunter -v- Hanley ([1955] SLT 213, Bailii, [1955] ScotCS CSIH_2, 1955 SC 200, [1955-95] PNLR 1)
    The pursuer had been injured when the hypodermic needle being used by the defender doctor broke in use. The pursuer said that the direction by the judge as to accepted practice for the use of such needles.
    Held: The court considered the . .
  • Cited – Joyce -v- Yeomans CA ([1981] 1 WLR 549, [1981] 2 All ER 21)
    The court discussed how an appellate court should defer to the assessment of a judge at first instance of the value of an expert witness.
    Brandon LJ said: ‘even when dealing with expert witnesses, a trial judge has an advantage over an . .

This case is cited by:

  • Cited – Mirza -v- Birmingham Health Authority QBD (Bailii, [2001] EWHC QB 1)
    The claimant had undergone heart surgery as an infant in 1976, and claimed damages for professional negligence. The procedure involved a dangerous procedure, a resection of coarctation. As a consequence, the Claimant suffered a number of problems . .
  • Cited – Bolitho -v- City and Hackney Health Authority HL (Gazette 10-Dec-97, Times 27-Nov-97, House of Lords, Bailii, [1997] UKHL 46, [1998] AC 232, [1997] 4 All ER 771, [1997] 3 WLR 1151)
    The plaintiff suffered catastrophic brain damage as a result of cardiac arrest induced by respiratory failure as a child whilst at the defendant hospital. A doctor was summoned but failed to attend, and the child suffered cardiac arrest and brain . .
  • Cited – Chester -v- Afshar HL ([2005] 1 AC 134, House of Lords, Bailii, [2004] UKHL 41, Times 19-Oct-04, [2004] 3 WLR 927, 67 BMLR 66)
    The claimant suffered back pain for which she required neurosurgery. The operation was associated with a 1-2% risk of the cauda equina syndrome, of which she was not warned. She went ahead with the surgery, and suffered that complication. The . .
  • Cited – Penney and Others -v- East Kent Health Authority CA (Times 25-Nov-99, Gazette 08-Dec-99, [2000] PNLR 323, Bailii, [1999] EWCA Civ 3005)
    A cervical smear screener could be liable in negligence if he failed to spot obvious abnormalities in a test result which indicated that further investigation was required. To say this is not to say that such screening tests were expected to achieve . .
  • Cited – Maguire -v- North West Strategic Health Authority QBD (Bailii, [2012] EWHC 3272 (QB))
    The claimant General Practitioner doctor had been found liable for professional negligence leading to very severe injury. He now sought a contribution from the Authority, saying that their similar mistake within a few days had similarly caused the . .
  • Cited – Montgomery -v- Lanarkshire Health Board SC (Bailii, [2015] UKSC 11, Bailii Summary, UKSC 2013/0136, SC Summary, SC)
    The pursuer claimed that her obstetrician had been negligent, after her son suffered severe injury at birth. The baby faced a birth with shoulder dystocia – the inabillity of the shoulders to pass through the pelvis. The consultant considered that a . .

Leave a Reply