Professionals must be careful to fully inform clients to avoid accusations of negligence. A recent case considered a failure to warn a medical patient.
It was argued that a doctor was negligent by not adequately warning a woman that a sterilisation procedure might fail, exposing her to the risk of becoming pregnant again.
The doctor had described his personal failure rate using the procedure as one in 2,000, rather than referring to a professional publication which wrote of a risk of one in 500 women who had the operation becoming pregnant.
The judge said the doctor was in breach of his duty to warn since he did not make it clear that the ratio of one in 2,000 related to his personal experience. For a proper balance of information, the patient should have been informed of the failure rate in the medical literature.
In a failure-to-warn argument, the outcome depends on what it is thought individuals would do had they been adequately warned. This case was finally unsuccessful as the patient was unable to persuade the court that she would have declined the sterilisation, even if told that the risk of failure was one in 500.