Court Rules GP Did Not Breach Duty of Care After Misdiagnosing Fatal Melanoma

A doctor who misdiagnosed a malignant melanoma did not breach his duty of care, even though the cancer spread and subsequently killed the patient, the NSW Court of Appeal has ruled.

Dr Steven Kelly, a Newcastle-based general practitioner, was sued by his patient, Malcolm Coote, for incorrectly diagnosing a melanoma on Mr Coote’s foot as a plantar wart. The lesion was an acral lentiginous melanoma, a rare and lethal form of skin cancer.

However, the NSW Supreme Court ruled that Dr Kelly’s actions did not result in a failure to prevent metastasis of the tumour. Mr Coote died in 2012 and his wife appealed the court’s findings.

The NSW Court of Appeal last month upheld the original findings. It accepted the expert evidence of four doctors who treated Mr Coote that the lesion did not look like a melanoma.

The court case centred on Dr Kelly’s clinical notes, in which he had recorded a plantar wart diagnosis and a treatment of cryotherapy. Dr Kelly said he would always record unusual features and that this lesion had not presented any red flags.

None of the four doctors who treated Mr Coote had noted a detailed appearance of the lesion, but the Court of Appeals concluded that it was not characteristic of melanoma as Mr Coote’s wife had claimed.

The court stated that Mr Coote and his wife did not seek a second opinion because neither they nor Dr Kelly had reason to believe it might be a malignant melanoma.



Smith, P. (8 August 2017) Court clears GP who mistook melanoma for a wart. Australian Doctor.

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