Medical negligence, causation and liability for non-disclosure of risk : a post-wallace framework and critique

Carver, Tracey & Smith, Malcolm K. (2014) Medical negligence, causation and liability for non-disclosure of risk : a post-wallace framework and critique. University of New South Wales Law Journal, 37(3), pp. 972-1018.

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Through an examination of Wallace v Kam, this article considers and evaluates the law of causation in the specific context of a medical practitioner’s duty to provide information to patients concerning material risks of treatment. To supply a contextual background for the analysis which follows, Part II summarises the basic principles of causation law, while Part III provides an overview of the case and the reasoning adopted in the decisions at first instance and on appeal. With particular emphasis upon the reasoning in the courts of appeal, Part IV then examines the implications of the case in the context of other jurisprudence in this field and, in so doing, provides a framework for a structured consideration of causation issues in future non-disclosure cases under the Australian civil liability legislation. As will become clear, Wallace was fundamentally decided on the basis of policy reasoning centred upon the purpose behind the legal duty violated. Although the plurality in Rogers v Whitaker rejected the utility of expressions such as ‘the patient’s right of self-determination’ in this context, some Australian jurisprudence may be thought to frame the practitioner’s duty to warn in terms of promoting a patient’s autonomy, or right to decide whether to submit to treatment proposed. Accordingly, the impact of Wallace upon the protection of this right, and the interrelation between it and the duty to warn’s purpose, is investigated. The analysis in Part IV also evaluates the courts’ reasoning in Wallace by questioning the extent to which Wallace’s approach to liability and causal connection in non-disclosure of risk cases: depends upon the nature and classification of the risk(s) in question; and can be reconciled with the way in which patients make decisions. Finally, Part V adopts a comparative approach by considering whether the same decision might be reached if Wallace was determined according to English law.

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ID Code: 79192
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: Medical Negligence, Causation, Non-disclosure of risk, Duty to warn of material risks, Wallace v Kam, Distinct material risks, Cumulative material risks
ISSN: 0313-0096
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LAW AND LEGAL STUDIES (180000) > LAW (180100) > Tort Law (180126)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Law
Current > Research Centres > Australian Centre for Health Law Research
Current > Schools > School of Law
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2014 [please consult the author]
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2014 23:59
Last Modified: 07 Dec 2014 21:53

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