Medical Negligence

Medical Negligence

BY: Tushar Rai

Meaning Of Negligence:
” Carelessness amounting to the culpable breach of a duty: failure to do something that a reasonable man (i.e. an average responsible citizen) would do, or doing something that a reasonable man would not do. In cases of professional negligence, involving some one with a special skill, that person is expected to show the skill of an average member of his profession .”

Kinds Of Negligence:
Negligence has many manifestations- it may be 1) Active negligence; 2) Contributory negligence; 3) Collateral negligence; 4) Comparative negligence; 5) Concurrent negligence; 6) Gross negligence,; 7) Continued negligence; 8) Criminal negligence; 9) Hazardous negligence; 10) Active and Passive negligence, 11) Wilful or reckless negligence or negligence per se.

Negligence Per Se:
Negligence per se:- Conduct, whether of action or omission, which may be declared and treated as negligence without any argument or proof as to the particular surrounding circumstances, either because it is in violation of a statute or valid municipal ordinance, or because it is so palpably opposed to the dictates of common prudence that it can be said without hesitation or doubt that no careful person would have been guilty of it. As a general rule, the violation of a public duty, enjoined by law for the protection of person or property, so constitutes”.

Medical Negligence:
“Gross medical mistake will always result in a finding of negligence. Use of wrong drug or wrong gas during the course of anaestheticwill frequently lead to the imposition of liability and in some situations even the principle of res ipsa loquitur can be applied. Even delegation of responsibility to another may amount to negligence in certain circumstances. A consultant could be negligent where he delegates the responsibility to his junior with the knowledge that the junior was incapable of performing of his duties properly. We are indicating these principles since in the case in hand certain arguments had been advanced in this regard, which will be dealt with while answering the questions posed by us.”

Broad principles under medical negligence as tort have been laid down in the celebrated case of Jacob Mathew Vs State of Punjab and amp; Another (2005) 6 SCC Page 1. The Hon’ble Apex Court further held that ”the test for determining medical negligence as laid down in Bolam case, (1957) 2 All ER 118 (QBD) holds good in its applicability in India.”.

It is apt to say that INDIAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION’s Case is a land mark ruling as to Medical Profession is concerned. Owing to this ruling, Medical Profession was brought under purview of Section 2 (1) (o) of Consumer Protection Act,1986. Therefore, it is very essential to know conclusions given in this ruling.

In ”Indian Medical Association Vs. V.P. Shantha and Others , the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that (1) Service rendered to a patient by a medical practitioner (except where the doctor renders service free of charge to every patient or under a contract of personal service), by way of consultation, diagnosis and treatment, both medicinal and surgical, would fall within the ambit of ‘service’ as defined in Section 2(1) (o) of the Act.

(2) The fact that medical practitioners belong to the medical profession and are subject to the disciplinary control of the Medical Council of India and/or State Medical Councils constituted under the provisions of the Indian Medical Council Act would not exclude the services rendered by them from the ambit of the Act.

(3) A ‘contract of personal service’ has to be distinguished from a ‘contract for personal services’. In the absence of a relationship of master and servant between the patient and medical practitioner, the service rendered by a medical practitioner to the patient cannot be regarded as service rendered under a ‘contract of personal service’. Such service is service rendered under a `contract for personal services’ and is not covered by exclusionary clause of the definition of ‘service’ contained in Section 2(1) (o) of the Act. (4) The expression ‘contract of personal service’ in Section 2(1) (o) of the Act cannot be confined to contracts for employment of domestic servants only and the said expression would include the employment of a medical officer for the purpose of rendering medical service to the employer. The service rendered by a medical officer to his employer under the contract of employment would be outside the purview of ‘service’ as defined in Section 2(1) (o) of the Act.

(5) Service rendered free of charge by a medical practitioner attached to a hospital/Nursing home or a medical officer employed in a hospital/Nursing home where such services are rendered free of charge to everybody, would not be “service” as defined in Section 2(1) (o) of the Act. The payment of a token amount for registration purpose only at the hospital/nursing home would not alter the position.

(6) Service rendered at a non-Government hospital/Nursing home where no charge whatsoever is made from any person availing the service and all patients (rich and poor) are given free service – is outside the purview of the expression ‘service’ as defined in Section 2(1) (o) of the Act. The payment of a token amount for registration purpose only at the hospital/Nursing home would not alter the position.

(7) Service rendered at a non-Government hospital/Nursing home where charges are required to be paid by the persons availing such services falls within the purview of the expression ‘service’ as defined in Section 2(1) (o) of the Act.

(8) Service rendered at a non-Government hospital/Nursing home where charges are required to be paid by persons who are in a position to pay and persons who cannot afford to pay are rendered service free of charge would fall within the ambit of the expression ‘service’ as defined in Section 2(1) (o) of the Act irrespective of the fact that the service is rendered free of charge to persons who are not in a position to pay for such services. Free service, would also be “service” and the recipient a “consumer” under the Act.

(9) Service rendered at a Government hospital/health centre/dispensary where no charge whatsoever is made from any person availing the services and all patients (rich and poor) are given free service – is outside the purview of the expression ‘service’ as defined in Section 2(1) (o) of the Act. The payment of a token amount for registration purpose only at the hospital/nursing home would not alter the position.

(10) Service rendered at a Government hospital/health centre/dispensary where services are rendered on payment of charges and also rendered free of charge to other persons availing such services would fall within the ambit of the expression ‘service’ as defined in Section 2(1) (o) of the Act irrespective of the fact that the service is rendered free of charge to persons who do not pay for such service. Free service would also be “service” and the recipient a “consumer” under the Act.

(11) Service rendered by a medical practitioner or hospital/nursing home cannot be regarded as service rendered free of charge, if the person availing the service has taken an insurance policy for medical care where under the charges for consultation, diagnosis and medical treatment are borne by the insurance company and such service would fall within the ambit of ‘service’ as defined in Section 2(1) (o) of the Act.

(12) Similarly, where, as a part of the conditions of service, the employer bears the expenses of medical treatment of an employee and his family members dependent on him, the service rendered to such an employee and his family members by a medical practitioner or a hospital/nursing home would not be free of charge and would constitute ‘service’ under Section 2(1) (o) of the Act.

– Harjot Ahluwalia [Minor] Vs Spring Meadows and Another which was upheld by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India { Civil Appeal No.7708 of 1997 with Civil Appeal No.7858 of 1997 { I (1998) CPJ 1 (SC)}. The Apex Court in their judgment while upholding our order have also dealt with the question of compensation to be awarded in favour of the parents of the minor child for their acute mental agony and life long care and attention on the minor child. In the aforesaid case the Hon’ble Apex Court held that the parents of the child having hired the services of the hospital, are also the consumers within the meaning of section 2 (1)(d)(ii) and that they would also be entitled to award of compensation due to negligence of the Ops to the Complainant.

– In Kurban Hussein Mohamedalli Rangawalla v State of Maharastra “To impose criminal liability under Section 304-A, Indian Penal Code, it is necessary that the death should have been the direct result of a rash and negligent act of the accused, and that act must be the proximate and efficient cause without the intervention of another’s negligence. It must be the causa causans; it is not enough that it may have been the causa sine qua non.”

– In Juggankhan v The State of Madhya Pradesh , the accused, a registered Homoeopath, administered 24 drops of stramonium and a leaf of dhatura to the patient suffering from guinea worm. The accused had not studied the effect of such substances being administered to a human being. The poisonous contents of the leaf of dhatura, were not satisfactorily established by the prosecution. This Court (the Hon’ble Supreme Court) exonerated the accused of the charge under Section 302 IPC. However, on a finding that stramonium and dhatura leaves are poisonous and in no system of medicine, except perhaps Ayurvedic system, the dhatura leaf is given as cure for guinea worm, the act of the accused who prescribed poisonous material without studying their probable effect was held to be a rash and negligent act. It would be seen that the profession of a Homoeopath which the accused claimed to profess did not permit use of the substance administered to the patient. The accused had no knowledge of the effect of such substance being administered and yet he did so. In this background, the inference of the accused being guilty of rash and negligent act was drawn against him. On observation of this, The Hon’ble Supreme Court opines as ”In our opinion, the principle which emerges is that a doctor who administers a medicine known to or used in a particular branch of medical profession impliedly declares that he has knowledge of that branch of science and if he does not, in fact, possess that knowledge, he is prima facie acting with rashness or negligence.”.

– In Dr Laxman Balakrishna Joshi Vs Dr Trimbak Bapu Godbole & Another was a case under Fatal Accidents Act, 1855. ”… The duties which a doctor owes to his patients came up for consideration. The Court held that a person who holds himself out ready to give medical advice and treatment impliedly undertakes that he is possessed of skill and knowledge for that purpose. Such a person when consulted by a patient owes him certain duties, viz., a duty of care in deciding whether to undertake the case, a duty of care in deciding what treatment to be given or a duty of care in the administration of that treatment. A breach of any of those duties gives a right of action for negligence to the patient. The practitioner must bring to his task a reasonable degree of skill and knowledge and must exercise a reasonable degree of care. Neither the very highest nor a very low degree of care and competence judged in the light of the particular circumstances of each case is what the law requires. The doctor no doubt has a discretion in choosing treatment which he proposes to give to the patient and such discretion is relatively ampler in cases of emergency. In this case, the death of patient was caused due to shock resulting from reduction of the fracture attempted by doctor without taking the elementary caution of giving anaesthetic to the patient. The doctor was held guilty of negligence and liability for damages in civil law.”

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