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Bolam v Friern Hospital Management Committee (1957) WLR582

Mr Bolam’s leg was broken during electroconvulsive therapy. He argued that the doctors should have provided a muscle relaxant during the process to reduce the risk of such an accident. At trial some practitioners said that the giving of relaxants was necessary but some did not. Bolam lost the case. It was held that where professional skills were involved, negligence was the failure to perform an act that the reasonable professional man would do in the circumstances, or the doing of an act that a reasonable professional man would not do in the circumstances. However, if the use of a special skill or degree of competence was involved, the test was the standard of the ordinary individual exercising that skill, not the highest degree of expertise possible. Negligence, therefore, meant the failure to act in accordance with the current standards of professional competence at the time, or, if there were different but equally acceptable standards, to act in accordance with one of those standards. A professional man is not negligent if he acts in accordance with practice accepted by a responsible body of members of his profession and exercises the ordinary skill of an ordinary competent person in that profession in doing so. -

Bolitho v City and Hackney Hospital Authority (1997) AC 232

A two year old boy was admitted to hospital suffering from breathing difficulties. He suffered cardiac arrest and subsequent brain damage before his respiratory and cardiac functions were restored. The doctor had failed to respond to two calls from the nurse. Held: In cases of treatment there are cases where, despite a body of professional opinion sanctioning the defendant's conduct, the defendant can properly be held liable for negligence. What other professionals do is persuasive evidence as to what is acceptable, but a consistent body of expert medical opinion may still be ignored by the judge, if he can be sure that no logical basis for the opinion has been shown to the court: "a plaintiff can discharge the burden of proof on causation by satisfying the court either that the relevant person would in fact have taken the requisite action (although she would not have been at fault if she had not) or that the proper discharge of the relevant person's duty towards the plaintiff required that she take that action." -

Whitehouse v. Jordan (1980) WLR 246

Mrs. Whitehouse was having difficulties with her labour. Mr. Jordan was called out late at night. He had never seen her before. He attempted five or more times to deliver her baby using forceps but eventually had to deliver by caesarean section. As a result, the child was profoundly handicapped. The fact that brain damage was caused in the course of delivery was never in question, but there was a lack of agreement among eminent experts about whether what was done was accepted medical practice. Mr. Jordan was found not to have been negligent, and Mrs. Whitehouse was left to bring up her handicapped child, without any compensation. The case was not resolved until the child was 11 years old. However, to have found Mr. Jordan negligent would have been unjust. He came to the case late at night for the very first time and took a course of action that many medical experts agreed was the right one. -