Grafton doctors do battle in court

TWO doctors have battled in out in the NSW Supreme Court over the contents of a controversial letter, mailed to patients awaiting surgery at the Grafton Base Hospital.

Doctor Stephen Prince was the only permanent ear, nose and throat specialist working out of the hospital when the North Coast Area Health Service scheduled an addition surgery list in January, 2006.

As Dr Prince was on leave at the time, the operations were performed by visiting locum surgeon Dr John Malouf.

When further surgeries were scheduled to be performed by Dr Malouf in April and May, Dr Prince sent a series of letters to several people at the hospital, some of which were copied to an insurance company and the Australian Medical Association.

One was sent to a number of patients on the hospital's ENT waiting list.

The court heard that the letters contained, among other things, concerned about the post-operative care of Dr Malouf's patients.

Dr Malouf sued Dr Prince on the grounds he had been defamed by those letters and claimed damages for misleading and deceptive conduct which he alleged arose from another letter sent to the Health Care and Complaints Commission.

He claimed Dr Prince had made malicious allegations out of his own pecuniary interest.

He was successful in part of his claim and awarded $138,500 over the letter sent to patients.

But following several cross-appeals from both parties the original orders were struck out this month.

The Court of Appeal ruled Dr Malouf was entitled to $20,000 in compensation for the letter copied to the AMA but found the trial judge had erred in awarding the $138,500 sum.

Dr Malouf was ordered to pay back $118,500 with interest from the judgement date.

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