The Bolam Principle - not the be all and end all The Bolam Principle - not the be all and end all

The Bolam Principle - not the be all and end all

9 November 2011 | Health Sector
The Bolam principle for medical negligence cases is codified in section 22 of the Civil Liability Act 2003 (Qld) as well as other State Civil Liability Acts. It provides that a professional does not breach their duty for the performance of professional services, if they “...acted in a way that (at the time the service was provided) was widely accepted by peer professional opinion...”.

In the recent case of Mazza v Webb [2011] QSC 163 a health care provider successfully raised the Bolam principle as a defence.

In February 2004, at the request of the plaintiff’s GP, Dr Webb performed an endoscopy upon the plaintiff. This endoscopy failed to locate a carcinoma located within the third part of the plaintiff’s duodenum (D3) and D4. This tumour was subsequently located by a further endoscopy in 2005.

The Bolam principle was successfully raised by the defendant doctor. The Court found “...that the usual practice [for the type of endoscope conducted by the defendant doctor]...is to proceed only as far as D2, unless an attempt to go further is warranted by ‘particular symptoms or signs’.” The tumour was located past D2.

Despite this, the defence ultimately failed on the basis that the defendant doctor failed to provide an adequate report of the endoscopy. The Court found that the defendant doctor’s negligent reporting “...was causative of the plaintiff not undergoing some further investigative procedure and of her tumour being undetected.”

Mazza is a reminder that even if the procedure performed accords with peer practice, that is not necessarily determinative of liability in a medical negligence claim.

Article by Kristina Fox, Lawyer.