Case Analysis: Medical Negligence-Jacob Mathew v. State of Punjab & Anr. (2005) 6 SCC 1
The case analysis which is being done hereinbelow is done while considering the viewpoint of the Courts in towards the cases relating to “Medical Negligence”. The case analysis carries the facts of the case, the issues raised by the Patients and their family members vis a vis the Doctors, arguments advances by both the sides and the judgment passed by the Court.
The son filed a First Information Report (FIR) at a Police Station in Ludhiana because his father was admitted in a hospital at Ludhiana on 15.02.1995 and died on 22.02.1995 at the same place. The patient had difficulty in breathing and no doctor turned up for twenty-five minutes to attend to him. However, Doctor No. 1 and Doctor No. 2 attended to the patient and brought an oxygen cylinder which was connected to the mouth of the patient. Interestingly, the patient’s breathing problem increased further and the patient wanted to get up from the bed, but the medical staff refused to listen. The oxygen cylinder was found to be empty and there was no gas cylinder available in that room. By the time arrangements of another gas cylinder were made, wastage of 5-7 minutes led to the death of the patient.
Charges Framed Under –
Section 304-A (Causing death by negligence) read with Section 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC, 1860).
Issues Raised and What did the Supreme Court hold?
i) Is there a difference in civil and criminal law on the concept of negligence?
ii) Whether a different standard is applicable for recording a finding of negligence when a professional, in particular, a doctor is to be held guilty of negligence?
The jurisprudential concept of civil and criminal negligence is different and cannot be equated with each other. If negligence is to be made a crime, the element of mens rea needs to be shown. The Court said “To prosecute a medical professional for negligence under criminal law….it must be shown that the accused did something or failed to do something which in the given facts and circumstances no medical professional in his ordinary senses and prudence would have done or failed to do.”
The Court also observed that if the oxygen cylinders were unavailable or found empty, then the hospital “may” or “may not” be liable under civil law, but the doctor cannot be prosecuted against a criminal charge levied against him.
The Court went onto say that professional negligence and occupational negligence cannot be equated together. A simple lack of care or an error of judgement or an accident is not proof of negligence is not negligence on part of the medical professional. So long as the doctor follows a “practice acceptable” to the medical profession of that day, he cannot be made liable for negligence merely because an alternative method of treatment was available.
The Doctor was found not-guilty and charges against him were quashed.
The Medical Practitioner which includes Doctors, Nurses, Clinics, Hospitals including the Para Medical staff need to be aware that their services are very important for the society and judgements like this by the Hon’ble Supreme Court reinforce the value of their services towards the society.
Authored By: Adv. Anant Sharma & Mayank Barman