Read Judgment: HARNEK SINGH & ORS Vs. GURMIT SINGH & ORS 

Tulip Kanth

New Delhi, May 20, 2022: Observing that the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission committed an error in reversing the findings of the State Commission and not adverting to the evidence on record including the report of the Medical Council of India, the Supreme Court has directed the respondents (hospital and concerned doctor) to pay to the complainants a total amount of Rs 25 lakh as the complainants made out a case of medical negligence.

In these appeals arising out of the decision of the NCDRC dismissing the appeal of the complainant and allowing the appeal of the doctor and the hospital (first and second respondents) by holding that no medical negligence was proved, the Larger Bench of Justice Uday Umesh Lalit, Justice S.Ravindra Bhat and Justice Pamidighantam Sri Narasimha after examining the evidence, medical records and the report of the ethics committee of the Medical Council of India (MCI) concluded that a case of deficiency of service was made out against the respondents for medical negligence.

Herein, the respondent doctor had recommended surgery for removing the gall bladder stones of the second complainant (deceased wife of first complainant) and prescribed certain tests to be carried out in advance. A laparoscopic cholecystectomy was performed by the Doctor in which a drain in the patient’s abdomen was placed. After this, the patient’s condition kept deteriorating and she went into multi-organ failure and died on August 11, 2004.The third respondent (doctor of another hospital) informed that the patient died due to intraoperative injuries to the colon and bile duct. When the matter was taken to the SCDRC it  held the first and second Respondents negligent and exonerated third respondent. The complainants filed an appeal before the NCDRC and it set aside the order of the SCDRC holding that negligence was not proved by the complainants. It was from this decision that the present appeals arose.

Holding that findings of the MCI on the conduct of the doctor left no doubt that this was certainly a case of medical negligence leading to deficiency in his services and the NCDRC did not attempt to draw its conclusion from the oral and documentary evidence, the Larger Bench said, “So far as present proceedings are concerned, as they arise out of a claim for compensation on the basis of medical negligence, the opinion and findings of the MCI regarding the professional conduct of Respondent 1 have great relevance.”

The Bench was of the opinion that there was sufficient material indicative of large bowel perforation after the laparoscopic operation and there were sufficient indicators to a diligent professional, to detect and take immediate steps for restitution. Instead of examining the material that was placed on record, NCDRC seemed satisfied with raising and rejecting the plea of res ipsa loquitur and holding that it was impermissible to assume that any sensible professional would intentionally commit an act which would result in an injury to the patient. In these proceedings for damages due to professional negligence, the question of intention does not arise,  added the Top Court.

Expressing displeasure over the fact that the NCDRC did not even refer to the report of the MCI, the Apex Court allowed the appeals and dismissed the order of the NCDRC.

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