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Vinod Jain Vs. Santokba Durlabhji Memorial Hospital and Ors. - (Supreme Court) (25 Feb 2019)

In cases of medical negligence, where a special skill or competence is attributed to a doctor, a doctor need not possess highest expert skill, at risk of being found negligent



The sad demise of the wife of the Appellant has resulted in the legal proceedings being initiated by the Appellant on a belief that, the cause of her death was medical negligence. The State Commission found in favour of the Appellant and directed a compensation of Rs. 15 lakh and costs of Rs. 51,000 to be paid to the Appellant. Aggrieved by the said order of the State Commission, the Respondents preferred an appeal before the NCDRC, which exonerated the Respondents of any medical negligence vide impugned order. It was opined that at the highest, it could be termed as a case of wrong diagnosis and certainly not one of medical negligence.

A doctor cannot be said to be negligent if he is acting in accordance with a practice accepted as proper by a reasonable body of medical men skilled in that particular art, merely because there is a body of such opinion that takes a contrary view. In cases of medical negligence, where a special skill or competence is attributed to a doctor, a doctor need not possess the highest expert skill, at the risk of being found negligent.

The Respondent No. 1-Hospital promptly attended to the wife of the Appellant. Respondent No. 2, physician, once again, attended to her promptly, and started her on antibiotic treatment. In view of fact that the patient was normal, afebrile, well-hydrated and displayed normal vitals, the oral administration of the tablet was prescribed. This, according to the NCDRC was the professional and medical assessment by Respondent No. 2-Doctor, arrived at on the basis of a medical condition of the patient, and could not constitute medical negligence.

Respondent No. 2-Doctor, who was expected to bring a reasonable degree of skill, knowledge and care, based on his assessment of the patient, prescribed oral administration of the antibiotic in that scenario, especially on account of the past medical treatments of the wife of the Appellant, because of which the veins for administration of IV could not be located. Her physical condition was found to be one where the oral administration of the drug was possible.

The approach adopted by the NCDRC cannot be said to be faulty, while dealing with the role of the State Commission, which granted damages on a premise that Respondent No. 2-Doctor could have pursued an alternative mode of treatment. Such a course of action, as a super-appellate medical authority, could not have been performed by the State Commission. There was no evidence to show any unexplained deviation from standard protocol.

The deceased was medically compromised by the reason of her past illnesses. The deceased was admitted to two other hospitals, post her discharge from Respondent No. 1-Hospital. The death had been caused by a multiplicity of factors. In the end, the medical certificate issued for the cause of death by Fortis Escorts Hospital cited septic shock due to multiple organ failure as the immediate cause of death, with her diabetic condition being an antecedent cause, as also the multiple malignancies, post chemotherapy and radiotherapy all contributing to her passing away. Appeal dismissed.


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