Gulab Khan v Matthew Rathjen [2016] NSWDC 139 is a recent decision concerning a failure of a general practitioner to refer the plaintiff for specialist treatment after he sustained lacerations over his left hand when he grabbed a knife to avoid being stabbed during an armed robbery.

The plaintiff consulted the general practitioner on two occasions in October 2011 and alleged that the general practitioner breached his duty of care to him by failing to properly assess and diagnose his injuries and to refer him to a hand surgeon or to a hospital emergency department for review and investigations.

The plaintiff alleged that as a result of the breach of duty of care, he suffered loss of function of his left third finger, a chronic pain syndrome and psychological injury.

The judgment sets out a detailed analysis of the expert (hand surgeon) opinions relied upon by the parties, including their concurrent evidence given at court. Peer review evidence from general practitioner witnesses was also given by conclave and concurrently.

It is clear from the judgment that the court preferred the plaintiff’s evidence to the general practitioner’s evidence, noting that the general practitioner’s clinical notes of his examination of the plaintiff was grossly deficient and did not support some of his evidence. 

In the end, the court was satisfied that the general practitioner had breached his duty of care to the plaintiff in the manner alleged. It was also held that causation was made out.

The general practitioner’s defence relying on s5O of the Civil Liability Act (that is, that he had acted in a manner which was widely accepted in Australia by peer professional opinion as competent professional practice) was not accepted.

Damages were awarded in the sum of $206,000.00.