Generally when getting a service from some provider it is implied that that provider has to provide the service they ask money for. If I buy a phone and that phone is broken they have to replace or refund me. If I get a contract for a 100mb/s internet line they have to provide this or I can refuse to pay for it and so on.

I am wondering: How is this with doctors? When have they fulfilled their contract so that I am required to pay them? Say they do a test and completely misread (out of gross incompetence) the result, are they allowed to bill me for the test, or didn't they not provide the service one can expect for that test? If they are unable to come up with a diagnosis that can easily be figured out even by laymen did they fulfill their contract?

I feel like in my country simply the act of seeing a doctor anything they do subsequently has to be paid for independently of the quality of the outcome.

I am interested in Germany primarily but also other jurisdictions out of curiosity.

1 Answer 1


Your understanding that you can refuse to pay for a poorly performed service is just wrong

At common law, you must pay the agreed price unless there has been a failure of consideration. A doctor who makes mistakes, even through “gross misconduct”, has not failed to provide consideration. They did their job, badly, but they did it.

The issue might arise where the doctor did not look at the test results or did not examine the patient. However, at least in the failure of consideration must be “total”; so long as they did part of what the contract required, they are entitled to their fee. Add to that, that your contract with your doctor has unwritten and pretty vague terms, waving a stethoscope in your direction probably counts as consideration.


If your doctor was negligent (gross or otherwise), and that caused you harm, then you would be entitled to damages to compensate you for your loss, either under a term of a contract or under the tort of negligence. They are still entitled to their fee.

In addition, at least in , goods and services come with statutory consumer guarantees. For services they are that they will be provided with due skill and care, be fit for purpose, and be delivered within a reasonable time. The remedies for breach of a guarantee are: refund, repair, replacement or exchange, compensation, or cancellation of contract.


There is no general right to offset under a contract. That is, if I am obliged to pay you under a contract but there is some amount of money you owe me (damages, for example), I am not allowed to short pay you - I have to pay you the full amount and you have to pay me what you owe me in a seperate transaction.

In practice, it happens all the time and people rarely go to court over it.

  • 1
    How exactly does this differ from me asking a landscaping company to get rid of a parasite on my lawn and they come, do some random stuff and say "I dont think there is any parasite at all". Obviously I would not pay them anything.
    – Cromon
    Commented Aug 26, 2023 at 21:52
  • The question surely is whether the consideration provided is the one specified in the contract? I mean, can a doctor hose you down with his own urine, and say he provided consideration for a contract of medical services?
    – Steve
    Commented Aug 27, 2023 at 9:17
  • @Steve no, and I can’t give you a hamburger and say that completes my contract to provide a back massage.
    – Dale M
    Commented Aug 27, 2023 at 11:19

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