Rogers v Whitaker [1992] HCA 58 was a landmark Australian law case involving a medical negligence claim. The case centred around a woman named Mrs Whitaker, who had sought treatment for her eye condition from Dr Rogers. Mrs Whitaker had pre-existing blindness in one eye and consulted Dr Rogers regarding a potential surgery to alleviate her condition.

During their consultations, Dr Rogers did not adequately inform Mrs Whitaker about the risks associated with the surgery, specifically the risk of total vision loss. Dr Rogers proceeded with the surgery, and unfortunately, Mrs Whitaker suffered a complete loss of vision in her only functional eye as a result.

Mrs Whitaker filed a lawsuit against Dr Rogers, alleging that he failed to provide her with the necessary information to make an informed decision about the surgery and its potential risks. The case was initially heard in the New South Wales Court of Appeal, which ruled in favour of Dr Rogers, stating that he had fulfilled his duty of care by providing what he considered to be necessary information.

However, the case was ultimately appealed to the High Court of Australia, which overturned the lower court’s decision and found in favour of Mrs Whitaker. The High Court recognized that a doctor has a duty to disclose all material risks associated with a proposed treatment, even if the doctor believes that the risks are remote or unlikely to occur. The court stated that the information provided should be based on what a reasonable person in the patient’s position would consider relevant to their decision-making process.

This case established the legal principle of “informed consent” in Australia, which requires doctors to disclose all material risks to patients before proceeding with a medical procedure. The ruling emphasized respecting patients’ autonomy and allowing them to make informed decisions about their healthcare. It also highlighted the significance of communication and transparency between doctors and patients in the medical field.

Practice tips:

  1. Print out patient health education leaflets from your clinical software. Almost every clinical software in Australia has a tab containing patient health education on various topics. Once printed out, the clinical software creates a record in the clinical notes that the “Patient Health Education material on XYZ topic was printed”. This creates a record that somewhat proves that a doctor explained the problem to the patient in great detail.
  2. Create templates of various consent forms in your clinical software. Make sure that the forms have a detailed explanation of all possible side effects and adverse outcomes of the treatment.

This article is not legal advice. Please, consult your legal practitioner if you have any concerns.