Apex Court upholds order awarding Rs 5 lakh compensation to claimant in medical negligence case, says NCDRC’s order was silent on issue of applicability of Eggshell Skull Rule
Justices Sanjay Karol & Aravind Kumar [23-04-2024]




Tulip Kanth


New Delhi, April 24, 2024: Observing that the record ought to have been speaking of a pre-existing medical condition because of which the victim may have suffered ‘unusual damage’ in order to establish the applicability of Eggshell Skull Rule, the Supreme Court has upheld the order of the District Forum granting compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the claimant in a medical negligence case.


The claimant-appellant,Jyoti Devi, was admitted to Suket Hospital located in Himachal Pradesh on June 28, 2005 and had her appendicitis removed by a Senior Surgeon. Post surgery, she was discharged. However,she suffered continuous pains near the surgical site, as such she was admitted again but was discharged the next day with the assurance that no further pain would be suffered by her. She was further treated by another doctor on the reference of respondent no.2 herein. Yet again, there was no end to her suffering. This process continued for a period of four years.


The claimant - appellant eventually landed up for treatment at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Science, Chandigarh. Upon investigation, it was found that a 2.5 cm foreign body (needle) “is present below the anterior abdominal wall in the region just medial to previous abdominal scar (Appendectomy)” for which a further surgery had to be performed for its removal.


Alleging negligence on the part of the respondent - Suket Hospital, a claim was brought for the “huge pain and spent money on treatment” totalling to Rs 19,80,000. The District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum awarded a compensation for Rs.5,00,000. The respondents approached the H.P. State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission where they were asked to pay Rs 1 lakh to the complainant. The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, in revision, applied the egg-skull rule to hold an individual liable for all consequences of their act. The compensation awarded by the State Commission was enhanced to Rs 2 lakh.


Hence, the claimant-appellant preferred an appeal before the Top Court seeking enhancement of compensation. The present dispute arose within the contours of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, the predecessor legislation to the current Consumer Protection Act, 2019.



“The factum of negligence on the part of the respondent Hospital as well as respondent No.2 has not been doubted, across fora”, the Division Bench of Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Aravind Kumar asserted.


Referring to J.J. Merchant (Dr) v. Shrinath Chaturvedi [LQ/SC/2002/799] and Common Cause v. Union of India [LQ/SC/1993/15], the Bench opined that the Consumer Protection Act is a benevolent, socially orientated legislation, the declared aim of which is aimed at protecting the interests of consumers. Various fora have been formed to save the aggrieved consumer from the hassle of filing a civil suit, i.e., provide for a prompt remedy in the nature of award or where appropriate, compensation, after having duly complied with the principles of natural justice.


It was further observed that in determining compensation in cases of medical negligence, a balance has to be struck between the demands of the person claiming compensation, as also the interests of those being made liable to pay


The Bench also explained the Eggshell Skull Rule which holds the injurer liable for damages that exceed the amount that would normally be expected to occur. It is a common law doctrine that makes a defendant liable for the plaintiff's unforeseeable and uncommon reactions to the defendant's negligent or intentional tort.



“In simple terms, a person who has an eggshell skull is one who would be more severely impacted by an act, which an otherwise “normal person” would be able to withstand. Hence the term eggshell to denote this as an eggshell is by its very nature, brittle. It is otherwise termed as “taking the victim as one finds them” and, therefore, a doer of an act would be liable for the otherwise more severe impact that such an act may have on the victim”, it said.


On the facts of the case, the Bench found that the manner in which compensation stood reduced by the State Commission as also the NCDRC, vis-à-vis the District Forum to be based on questionable reasoning. “How could such compensation be justified, after observations having been made regarding the service rendered by the Hospital, being deficient, and the continuous pain and suffering on the part of the claimant-appellant, is something we fail to comprehend. Compensation by its very nature, has to be just. For suffering, no part of which was the claimant-appellant’s own fault, she has been awarded a sum which can, at best, be described as ‘paltry’”, it said.


The impugned judgment was also silent as to how the Eggshell-Skull Rule applied to the present case.The record ought to have been speaking of a pre-existing vulnerability or medical condition, because of which the victim may have suffered ‘unusual damage’. However, none of the orders - be it District, State Commission or the NCDRC referred to any such condition.


Thus, setting aside the Awards of the NCDRC as also the State Commission and restoring the Award as passed by the District Forum, the Bench ordered that a sum of Rs 5 lakh ought to be paid expeditiously by the respondents to the appellant for being medically negligent and providing services deficient in nature. The sum of Rs 5 lakh is also accompanied by interest simple in nature @ 9% from the date of the award passed by the District Forum. Additionally, the Bench also imposed a cost of Rs.50,000 to be paid in terms of the cost of litigation. 

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