Chatterton v Gerson – Case Summary

Chatterton v Gerson

High Court

Citations: [1981] QB 432; [1980] 3 WLR 1003; [1981] 1 All ER 257; (1980) 124 SJ 885; [1981] CLY 2648.

Facts

The claimant suffered from severe pain due to a post-surgical scar. She was referred to the defendant, a doctor who specialised in pain treatment. The defendant told the claimant that he advised surgery which would block the sensory nerves around the scar. He also told her that there was a risk this would cause numbness and temporary muscle weakness.

The claimant agreed to undergo the surgery. It only gave her temporary relief, and caused some numbness in her right leg. For this reason, the claimant underwent the surgery a second time. On the second occasion, the defendant failed to warn the claimant that she might experience numbness or muscle weakness. The second surgery caused the claimant to completely lose the sensation in her right leg and made her pain even worse. The claimant sued the defendant for negligence and battery.

Issue(s)
  1. For the purposes of the tort of battery, how informed must the claimant be to give valid consent?
  2. What standard of care is owed by a doctor when informing patients of risks associated with treatment?
Decision

The High Court held in favour of the defendant. The claimant gave valid consent to the surgery, so there was no battery. The doctor had fulfilled his duty of care in negligence.

This Case is Authority For…

For the purposes of the tort of battery, consent is valid if the claimant has been informed of the broad nature of defendant’s acts. There is no need for the claimant to be informed as to every risk associated with the act.

This case is no longer good authority for the standard of care owed by doctors who have a duty to warn. This is a result of the decision in Montgomery v Lanarkshire Health Board [2015] UKSC 11.

Other

In this case, Bristow J suggested that consent to touching might be vitiated by fraud if the defendant withheld relevant information in bad faith. In such circumstances, the defendant might still be liable for battery.

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