Maintaining the sobering record of Plaintiff claims based on informed consent, is a recent South Australian case, Coombes v Katsaros [2011] SADC 93.

The claim concerned alleged complex regional pain syndrome ("CRPS") said to have arisen following hand surgery.

The key to the Plaintiff’s claim was his assertion that he ought to have been warned of the risk that such hand surgery, which was indicated, but not essential, could cause CRPS and so further suffering.

Evidence at trial was given suggesting some hand surgeons would provide such a warning, whilst others would not. The evidence as to the incidence of such complication was not clear, but accepted by the trial judge as occurring in a severe form in perhaps 1 in 2,500 cases.

In the circumstances, Judge Millstead was not convinced the Defendant had a duty to warn of such risk (see @ [267]). Interestingly, Judge Millstead appeared to place significant weight in his conclusion, upon the absence of any specific questioning by Mr Coombes concerning risks with the surgery.

The implication is that perhaps had he appeared more cautious about proceeding, questioning the doctor as to what may go wrong, a duty may then have arisen to warn of the complication that occurred.

Mr Coombes case therefore fell at the first hurdle. Given Judge Millstead’s conclusion, it would have failed at the second (and more onerous) stage, assuming a duty to warn of the relevant risk arose, of showing that such a warning would have lead to the patient refusing to proceed.