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Mohr v. Williams

Citation. 104 N.W. 818 (Minn. 1906)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Mohr (Plaintiff) consented to an operation by Williams (Defendant) on her right ear. During the surgery, Defendant realized that surgery was not needed for the right ear but was needed for the left. He operated on the left ear without explicit consent.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Consent is required before a surgery. Consent can be implied in some emergency situations, but there must be some reasonable expectation of immediate harm if action is not taken.


Mohr (Plaintiff) was having issues with her right ear and requested Williams (Defendant) examine it. Defendant informed Plaintiff she would need surgery on her right ear but did not tell her there were any issues with her left ear. Plaintiff consented to surgery. During the surgery, Defendant discovered Plaintiff’s left ear was actually in worse shape than the right and decided to operate on the left ear instead. The operation was successful, but Plaintiff still sued for assault and battery because she had not consented to the surgery on her left ear.


Did this patient imply consent to surgery on her left ear by explicitly consenting to surgery on her right ear?


No, the Court held that explicit consent generally is necessary before surgery. While consent can be implied in emergency situations, this particular case was not an emergency. Therefore, the patient’s consent to surgery on her left ear was not implied just because she consented to a surgery on her right ear.


  • The Court starts by talking about the importance of bodily autonomy, making consent for any surgery necessary.
  • Additionally, the Court compares giving consent to creating a contract with the doctor authorizing the doctor to conduct the procedure the patient has consented to.
  • The Court reasoned that in cases of actual emergency, per the discretion of the doctor, consent may be implied. This would include a situation where an unconscious patient needed lifesaving surgery. However, the Court declined to consider this case to be a comparable emergency as a matter of law, leaving this question for the jury to decide.
  • The surgery on the left ear was started only after the operation on the right turned out to not be necessary. This further shows the case was not an emergency.

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