Errors without clear negligence not criminal

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In the recent case of Mahadev Prasad Kaushik (Dr) v State of UP, the Supreme Court said prosecuting doctors without adequate evidence of their negligence would be a disservice to the community at large.

The bench partly allowed an appeal filed by Kaushik, a doctor who challenged the summons issued by a trial court to prosecute him under section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in connection with the death of a patient. Section 304 of the IPC carries a maximum jail sentence of 10 years.

Concerned with the relationship of confidence between a patient and a doctor, the court said such actions would shake the mutual confidence between a doctor and his or her patient.

Not every mishap or death that occurs during medical treatment should lead to proceedings against the medical practitioner in a criminal court.

If the courts were to impose criminal liability on hospitals and doctors for everything that went wrong, doctors would be more concerned about ensuring their own legal safety than providing patients with the best care and treatment possible.

The court further stated that every failure or misfortune in a hospital or clinic could not be termed an act of negligence, punishable under section 304 of the code. While a person who falsely claims to have medical knowledge could be tried under section 304, a qualified doctor should not have to face the same charge unless he or she has shown blatant negligence in treating a patient.

The court also pointed out that an error of judgment by a professional could not be considered negligence per se, especially since the more complicated a medical emergency is, the higher the chance is of an error of judgment being made.

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] Readers should not act on the basis of this information without seeking professional legal advice.