Medical negligence is understandably one of the most serious classes of consumer disputes, with human life being almost directly at stake in most of such cases. As more and more such cases pour in, the last year saw the highest pay out being handed out by a consumer forum in a medical negligence case-to the tune of 1.73 crore. More followed the suit as instances of forum handing out hefty compensation in such cases are steadily pouring in. See Doctors and Hospitals Slapped with Heavy Penalty for Medical Negligence.
The stance of consumer forum in this respect triggers the need for more and more consumers to be aware of their rights in this regard and bring forth such issues. The consumer forum is willing to help but the system can function smoothly only if more consumers are not only aware of the rights and procedures in this regard but also willing to come forth with their issues. Below are a couple of points every consumer must know about medical negligence cases:
- A doctor may be held liable for negligence in either of the two cases: either he was not possessed of the requisite skill which he professed to have possessed, or, he did not exercise the skill which he did possess.
- The standard to be applied for judging negligence would be that of an ordinary competent person exercising ordinary skill in that profession, in this case that of a doctor. A highly skilled professional/specialist may be possessed of better qualities, but that cannot be the yardstick for judging the negligence of the doctor.
- The liability of doctor can be civil, criminal or both. Criminal liability requires higher degree of negligence.
- No experts’ opinion is required to file a case of medical negligence in consumer forums against the doctors. This is a crucial point to be noted because there have been several instances where consumer forums had quashed medical negligence cases on the grounds of absence of experts’ opinion. Post the 2010 verdict, the situation has changed and the forums do not require any expert opinion to proceed in medical negligence cases.
(With research inputs from Jai Anand, III Year Law Student, Jindal Global Law School)