Case Analysis: Medical Negligence-Spring Meadows Hospital and Anr v. Harjol Ahluwalia and Anr. (1998) 4 SCC 39.
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.
A minor was admitted in a Hospital where the patient upon examination of a Senior Consultant Paediatrician, and on advice of other doctors. Upon diagnosis it was found that the patient was suffering from typhoid fever and appropriate medicines were prescribed for the same. The nurse in the said hospital asked the father of the patient to get the injection “Inj Lariago”, upon which the nurse injected the same to the minor patient. The patient, immediately on being injected, collapsed on the lap of his mother. Due to such a tragic turn of events, a doctor attended the patient and informed the parents that the child suffered a cardiac arrest and then by manually pumping the chest, the doctor attempted to revive the heartbeat. Then another doctor attended the patient and started the procedure of manual respiration. The patient was kept on a manual ventilator but the condition of the child showed no improvement. He was moved to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of another hospital on 03.01.1994 and upon careful examination of the minor, the child was declared critical and he could only survive in a vegetative state as irreparable damage had been caused to his brain and there was no chance of the revival of the same. Upon release of the minor from the referred hospital on 24.01.1994, one of the doctors of the first hospital and the Chief Administrator of the same hospital offered to admit the child and possibly attempt to recover him. The complainant alleged that the child due to negligence and deficiency on part of the hospital authorities suffered irreparable damage and could survive only in a vegetative state and accordingly claimed compensation of INR 28 lakhs.
Issues Raised and Arguments advanced by the Doctors/Hospital –
a) The minor child being the patient who was admitted into the hospital for treatment, can the parents of the child be held to be consumers so as to claim compensation under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act?
b) Is the Commission under the Act entitled to award compensation to the parents for mental agony in view of the powers of the Commission under Section 14 of the Act?
c) Even if the child as well as the parents of the child would come under the definition of “Consumer” under Section 2(1)(d) of the Act whether compensation can be awarded in favour of both the consumers or compensation can be awarded only to the beneficiary of the services rendered, who in the present case would be child who was admitted into the hospital?
The Hospital argued that the no payment was made by the patient’s family and hence, the services of the hospital have been availed for consideration and as such the complainant is not a consumer within the definition of “Consumer” as under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. Further, it was argued by the Hospital and the Doctors that there has been no deficiency or negligence on part of the doctors, and if any, is on the part of the “medically qualified nurse” who misread the prescription and was working under the control and direction of one of the doctor’s . Also, immediate steps were taken by the hospital authorities to examine the patient.
What did the Supreme Court hold?
The Supreme Court observed that “The true position is that an error of judgement may, or may not, be negligent, it depends on the nature of the error. If it is one that would not have been made by a reasonably competent professional man professing to have the standard and type of skill that the defendant holds himself out as having, and acting with ordinary care, then it is negligence. If on the other hand, it is an error that such a man, acting with ordinary care, might have made, then it is not negligence.”
The Supreme Court held that a young child who goes to the hospital with his parents and is treated by a doctor, the parents would come within the definition of “consumer” within the said Act and the young child would also become a consumer of such services. It thus includes persons who hire services as well as beneficiaries of services. Thus, they were allowed to get compensated by the Hospital for deficiency in services.
This decision of the Supreme Court highlights that Medical Professionals which includes Doctors, Nurses, Clinics, Hospitals including the Para Medical staff have to be wary of administering proper drugs and even taking care of the patients. A thorough due-diligence of the patient’s history and knowledge of the medicines is extremely important before taking any action.
Authored By: Adv. Anant Sharma & Mayank Barman