Surgeon fails to stop Four Corners episode

A surgeon has failed in his court bid to stop the ABC airing a program about his practice.
A surgeon has failed in his court bid to stop the ABC airing a program about his practice.

Urgent court action by a prominent skin doctor to stop the ABC broadcasting a Four Corners episode about his practice has failed.

Daniel Lanzer fears an upcoming episode will cast him in an unfavourable light based on information he believes has been provided by two former employees in breach of confidentiality agreements.

The experienced dermatologist, who markets himself as a cosmetic surgeon and boasts of having more than 20,000 patients, sought an urgent injunction to stop the episode airing and a declaration that the ABC was participating in breaches of the former employees' contracts.

But the Federal Court on Thursday declined to stand in the way of the ABC, dismissing Dr Lanzer's application.

Justice John Nicholas said the doctor couldn't yet stand up allegations that his former employees, Justin Nixon and Lauren Hewish, unlawfully breached their confidentiality obligations.

Mr Nixon and Ms Hewish quit Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery Services in October 2020 and April 2021 respectively and are said to be sources for the episode.

No evidence suggested either was motivated by spite or ill will or motivated by any more than what they viewed as unsafe or inappropriate practices and behaviour, Justice Nicholas said.

"So far as the evidence is concerned, there is nothing to indicate that Mr Nixon or Ms Hewish have improperly used information they obtained because they had been employees of DCSS," the judge said.

Dr Lanzer denies allegations of underpayment of wages and incorrect charging. He sought to provide context to allegations of so-called unhappy patients who have had what they regarded as poor surgical outcomes.

He says his employment contracts with Mr Nixon and Ms Hewish prohibit the employees from disclosing confidential information and from doing anything that may impair or reduce the doctor's reputation.

Dr Lanzer's barrister asked the judge to infer the former employees improperly used information in order to cause detriment to DCSS and that the ABC knew Mr Nixon and Ms Hewish were motivated by a prohibited purpose.

But the judge said there was no prima facie case for either allegation.

Assuming either of the former employees appears in the program and makes statements that could be reasonably considered in breach of the confidentiality agreement, the allegation against the ABC would require Dr Lanzer to establish the ABC induced or procured the employees.

"The fact that the ABC may be providing a means with which they can make public statements that may have the potential to diminish Dr Lanzer's reputation does not amount to procuring or inducing them to do so," Justice Nicholas said.

He was also not satisfied damages were not appropriate for any reputational or corporate harm suffered.

Dr Lanzer had previously sought an assurance from the ABC it would not broadcast anything conveyed to it by current or former employees in breach of the confidentiality obligations or that could impair his reputation.

Australian Associated Press