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Mohr v. Williams

Citation. 95 Minn. 261, 104 N.W. 12
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Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff underwent surgery for her right ear. During the surgery, defendant instead operated on plaintiff’s left ear without her consent. Plaintiff sued the defendant, alleging assault and battery.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

In the absence of an emergency, a physician must seek consent from a patient before operating on him or her.


Mohr consented to an operation on her right ear. During the surgery, Williams found that the condition on her right ear was not serious enough to warrant the operation. Instead, Williams concluded that the condition in plaintiff’s left ear was more severe. Without waking Mohr to seek her consent for the new operation, Williams went ahead and operated on her left ear. The operation on Mohr’s left ear was successful. After the surgery, Mohr sued Williams for assault and battery.


Once a patient has consented to one operation, does the patient need to consent before the physician performs a different operation?


Yes. A physician does not have a free license to operate. Although the operation on Mohr’s left ear was successful, Williams should have sought her permission before freely operating on the ear. The order for a new trial is affirmed.


While a physician impliedly contracts that he or she will exercise reasonable care, his or her methods of treatment do not warrant a free license to operate. In certain circumstances, a physician may operate without first obtaining express consent. For instance, a physician may operate if a patient is unconscious and there is a need prompt surgical attention to preserve a life or limb. Here, although Williams possessed no evil intent, he is not absolved of liability. Every person has a right “to complete immunity of his person from physical interference of others.” In the absence of an emergency necessary to preserve a life or limb, a physician must seek consent before operating on a patient.

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