Doctors protected from negligence allegations

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In a significant development, the Supreme Court directed on 17 February that no consumer or criminal court in the country could issue a summons to a doctor or a hospital in a case of medical negligence without seeking the opinion of an expert committee of doctors. A bench comprising Justices Markandey Katju and RM Lodha allowed the appeal of Dr Martin FD Souza of Nanavati Hospital in Mumbai, who was directed by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) in 2002 to pay Rs400,000 (US$7,700) with interest, along with compensation of Rs300,000 to his patient MD Ishfaq. Ishfaq was undergoing treatment for a kidney transplant by D’Souza due to chronic renal failure.

Doctor_and_patientWhile overruling the decision of the NCDRC, the Supreme Court barred all consumer forums, courts and police officers from acting on complaints of medical negligence, unless a doctor had testified about the possibility of such negligence. The bench held that courts and consumer forums were not experts in medical science, and could not substitute their own views for the views of qualified specialists. The court stated that if a complaint had been received against a doctor or hospital by consumer forums (whether district, state or national) or by a criminal court, the matter should first be referred to a competent doctor or a committee of doctors who specialize in the field to which the medical negligence relates. Only after a report has been issued by the relevant specialists confirming a prima facie case of medical negligence can a notice be sent to the concerned doctor or hospital. The court further warned police officials that they could face legal action if they arrested or harassed doctors, unless the facts clearly fell within the parameters laid down in the case of Jacob Matthew v State of Punjab, decided in 2005.

The update of court judgments is compiled by Bhasin & Co, Advocates, a corporate law firm based in New Delhi. The authors can be contacted at [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected] Readers should not act on the basis of this information without seeking professional legal advice.