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Liability in the context of misdiagnosis of melanoma in Australia

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Malignant melanoma is a disease for which misdiagnosis may have very serious ramifications for both patients and clinicians. Given how uncertain and difficult the diagnosis of some melanomas can be, clinicians may well be apprehensive about their potential professional liability arising from claimed misdiagnosis or mismanagement of melanoma. A recent Supreme Court of New South Wales decision1 is one of few Australian cases to directly address this issue specifically in relation to melanoma. Coote v Dr Kelly exists in the context of recent High Court of Australia decisions relating to the common law of professional negligence in Australia. Therefore, it is important to examine the particular facts of the case, how it was decided and why, and whether the court’s decision can reasonably be reconciled with what is understood of melanoma diagnosis clinically and from evidence-based medicine as well as a subsequent appeal which resulted in an order for retrial. We emphasise the importance of early recognition of uncertainty in diagnosis and subsequent escalation, particularly where delayed diagnosis may affect survival. This article provides medical practitioners with a better understanding of the uncertainty inherent in the law regarding certain issues of causation in negligence cases,…