Tulip Kanth

New Delhi, April 21, 2022: Observing that no case of medical negligence was made out against the respondents-doctors, the Supreme Court has held that while adopting a course of treatment, the duty cast upon the medical practitioner is that he must ensure that the medical protocol being followed by him is to the best of his skill. At a given time, a medical practitioner would be liable only where his conduct fell below that of the standards of a reasonably competent practitioner in his field.

The Division Bench of Justice Ajay Rastogi and Justice Abhay S. Oka said, “Although the complaint of the patient which remained persistent could not be ruled out despite medically approved drugs being administered to him and if the patient could not be finally saved, that in itself could not be considered to be a case of post operative medical negligence, as is being tried to be projected by the appellants on the basis of the material placed on record.”

Herein, the wife(first appellant) on the sad demise of her husband after his long illness had initiated legal proceedings on a bona fide belief that the cause of death of her late husband was post operative medical negligence and follow-up care.

The factual background which led to such proceedings was that the first Complainant-widow and the minor children (second & third complainants) of deceased Naveen Kant, jointly filed a complaint, alleging that in the first instance in April, 1990, Naveen Kant developed hypertension and later he underwent a kidney transplant surgery. He was discharged from the hospital but he finally died on February 3, 1996.

The Commission arrived at a conclusion that the patient Naveen Kant was under the hands of the expert team of doctors and possible medical care at the command of the doctors was fully administered to him and after being discharged from the hospital on November 24, 1995, still thereafter he continued to be under treatment and merely because the expert team of doctors could not save him after his prolonged illness and he died, that in itself could not be considered to be a case of post operative medical negligence. In consequence thereto, the Commission dismissed the complaint filed at the instance of the appellants. Aggrieved by this order, the present appeal was filed.

At the outset, the Bench referred to the decision of this Court in Jacob Mathew v. State of Punjab and Another wherein it was opined that in case of medical negligence the liability would only come if either a person (doctor) did not possess the requisite skills which he professed to have possessed or he did not exercise with reasonable competence in given case the skill which he did possess.

Another judgment referred to by the Bench was the one of this Court in Dr. Harish Kumar Khurana v. Joginder Singh and Others wherein it was held sufficient material on medical evidence should be available before the adjudicating authority to arrive at a conclusion that the death is due to medical negligence. Even death of a patient cannot, on the face of it, be considered to be medical negligence.

Opining that a medical practitioner would be liable only where his conduct fell below that of the standards of a reasonably competent practitioner in his field, the Apex Court stressed on the aspect that a medical practitioner is not to be held liable simply because things went wrong from mischance or misadventure or through an error of judgment in choosing one reasonable course of treatment in preference to another.

Clarifying that the term negligence has no defined boundaries, the Bench also affirmed that if any medical negligence is there, whether it is pre or post-operative medical care or in the follow-up care, at any point of time by the treating doctors or anyone else, it is always open to be considered by the Courts/Commission.

On the factual scenario, the Bench stated that the treating doctors are academically sound and experts in the field of kidney transplantation. It was also mentioned that there was a complaint made by the patient of pain in his left forearm while he was being discharged, but he was called upon to continue as outdoor patient and on all the later occasions, even as per the case sheet of the patient, doctors had treated the patient to the best of their medical knowledge and administered the best medical care which was possible. 

The Bench said, “ The doctors are expected to take reasonable care, but no professional can assure that the patient will come back home after overcoming the crisis. At the same time, no evidence has come on record at the behest of the appellants which, in any manner, could demonstrate that it was a case of post-operative medical negligence or follow up care on the part of treating doctors…”

According to the Court, the respondents-doctors are experts and qualified Nephrologists and this fact had been admitted by the appellants that the patient was under treatment of the best medical professionals and qualified Nephrologists, but those treating doctors could not save the patient Naveen Kant, that in itself could not be considered to be a case of post operative medical negligence which was the main grievance of the appellants before the Commission.

The Bench realized the pain of the complainant upon losing her husband but said that the same cannot translate into a legal remedy. Thus, the Apex Court held that the Commission had not committed any manifest error in arriving at a conclusion that in post operative medical negligence or follow up care, there was no negligence being committed by the respondents which may be a foundation for entertaining the complaint filed by the appellants. In consequence thereof, the Bench held that the judgment of the Commission did not call for any interference by this Court.

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