Rogers v Whitaker: 19 Nov 1992

High Court of Australia – Negligence – Breach of duty – Medical practitioner – Duty to warn of possibility of adverse effect of proposed treatment – Extent of duty.
The patient complained that the doctor when proposing a form of treatment to his left eye had not explained the associated risks. Those risks had become realised. The plaintiff was already blind in the other eye, giving the risk a greater significance than it would otherwise have had. In addition, she had asked anxiously about risks.
Held: Why should the patient’s asking a question make any difference in negligence, if medical opinion determines whether the duty of care requires that the risk should be disclosed? The patient’s desire for the information, even if made known to the doctor, does not alter medical opinion. ‘Whether a medical practitioner carries out a particular form of treatment in accordance with the appropriate standard of care is a question in the resolution of which responsible professional opinion will have an influential, often a decisive, role to play; whether the patient has been given all the relevant information to choose between undergoing and not undergoing the treatment is a question of a different order. Generally speaking, it is not a question the answer to which depends upon medical standards or practices. Except in those cases where there is a particular danger that the provision of all relevant information will harm an unusually nervous, disturbed or volatile patient, no special medical skill is involved in disclosing the information, including the risks attending the proposed treatment.’
The court restated the test of the materiality of a risk so as to encompass the situation in which, as the doctor knows or ought to know, the actual patient would be likely to attach greater significance to a risk than the hypothetical reasonable patient might do: ‘a risk is material if, in the circumstances of the particular case, a reasonable person in the patient’s position, if warned of the risk, would be likely to attach significance to it or if the medical practitioner is or should reasonably be aware that the particular patient, if warned of the risk, would be likely to attach significance to it.’
Mason CJ, Brennan, Dawson, Toohey, Gaudron, McHugh JJ
[1992] HCA 58, (1992) 175 CLR 479
England and Wales
Cited by:
CitedMontgomery v Lanarkshire Health Board SC 11-Mar-2015
Change in Doctors’ Information Obligations
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 inability of the shoulders to pass through the pelvis. The consultant considered that a . .

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Updated: 26 January 2021; Ref: scu.544327