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Doctors, surgeons, and other health professionals are the most frequently surveyed professions in the country. That’s because the potential for negative outcomes is simply much greater than in other jobs that don’t put someone’s life in your hands. Despite the frequency of these cases, plaintiffs are notoriously difficult to win. This is largely because it is difficult to distinguish between a negative result, which is an inherent risk of the procedure, and a negative result, which is due to the doctor’s negligence.

Essentials of Medical Negligence  

The term “medical malpractice” is made up of two words – medical and negligence. Negligence is simply the lack of reasonable care. Medical negligence is no different. Only when the doctor is negligent is the doctor a defendant?

A defamation action requires the following essential facts:

The defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff.

The defendant did breach that duty.

The plaintiff suffered a loss as a result of that breach.

In the case of Jasbir Kaur Vs. State of Punjab, A missing newborn baby was found in a hospital bed in the state of Punjab. The child was found near the bathroom. The hospital authorities claimed that the child was taken by a cat that harmed him. The court found that the hospital management was negligent and did not follow the duty of care and precautions. Accordingly, the compensation was fixed at Rs. 1 lakh. 

Standard of care

The standard of care defines appropriate care and medicines according to the requirements that a doctor should consider in caring for his patients. Treatment does not have to be the highest or the lowest.

Mr. Laxman Balkrishna Joshi Vs. Dr. In Trimbak Bapu Godbole and Anr. the Supreme Court said that a doctor has certain obligations as mentioned above and breach of those obligations can make him liable for medical negligence. A doctor must exercise the reasonable care prescribed for the profession.

Duty of care

Duty of care in medical negligence is the duty of the other party (the doctor) to ensure that no harm is caused to the other party (the patient). In general, doctors owe a duty of care to their patients.

Burden of Proof

The burden of proving negligence is usually on the plaintiff. The law requires a higher standard of proof to support any claim of negligence brought against a physician. In cases of medical negligence, the patient must bring an action against the doctor to succeed.

In Calcutta Medical Research Institute Vs. Bimalesh Chatterjee, it was held that the burden of proof of negligence and lack of service is clearly on the plaintiff.

Criminal, Monetary, and Disciplinary Consequences

The consequences of legally cognizable medical negligence can be divided into three categories: (i) criminal liability, (ii) monetary liability, and (iii) disciplinary liability.

Criminal liability can be aggravated under Indian law. Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”) which is general and does not limit “medical negligence”. For example, Section 304A of the IPC (which deals with the death of a person by reckless or negligent driving and carries a maximum imprisonment of 2 years) deals with both reckless and negligent driving accidents. because of the vehicle and also because of medical negligence which caused the death of the patient. Similarly, other general provisions of the IPC such as sections 337 (causing grievous bodily harm) and 338 (causing grievous bodily harm) are often used in the context of medical negligence.

Civil liability, i.e. monetary compensation, can be improved jointly. Law by filing a complaint in the relevant civil or consumer court. The dependent of the deceased patient or the patient himself (living) files a lawsuit with a claim for damages, the purpose of which is to achieve liability for damages. Permanent offices established under the Legal Services Authority Act 1987 can also be contacted by an applicant seeking relief for services rendered in “hospital or ambulance”, which are considered “public services”. Permanent Lok Adalats have powers similar to those of civil courts in certain matters (such as summoning witnesses and subpoenas) and have jurisdiction up to Rs. 1 crore.

Another consequence of medical negligence may be disciplinary action. Professional misconduct by doctors is governed by the Indian Medical Council (IMC) (Professional Conduct, Ethics and Ethics) Regulations, 2002, made under the IMC Act, 1956. The Medical Council of India (MCI) and the relevant State Medical Councils have the power to take disciplinary action which may result in final removal or suspension of a physician’s designation.

Medical Malpractice 

Medical malpractice refers to the act of carelessness on the part of a healthcare provider, usually a doctor. It is described as acting in a way that a knowledgeable medical practitioner would not, or neglecting to act in a way that a knowledgeable medical professional would.

When a patient seeks medical attention, they may encounter one of numerous types of medical negligence. Malpractice can range from anything as basic as grasping the hospital bed bars to something more intricate like doing open heart surgery wrong.

In a significant decision rendered on August 5, 2005, the Supreme Court instructed law enforcement to refrain from prosecuting physicians who are alleged to have acted rashly or negligently unless they had obtained a reliable and qualified medical opinion to back up their allegations.

The Jacob Mathew Vs. State of Punjab case, decided by the Supreme Court, is a significant ruling because it established the parameters for criminal liability of doctors for malpractice or service deficiencies. The decision was made in response to an appeal that a physician at CMC, Chandigarh, who had been called in for the death of a cancer patient who was near death, filed. The hospital was unable to deliver oxygen promptly because there was no gas in the cylinder, according to the complaint filed on behalf of the patient’s family, Jiwan Lal, who passed away.

The Supreme Court’s Advice to Physicians and Protections Against Criminal Prosecution

The following safety measures should be implemented, as specified by the Supreme Court in Martin F. D’Souza Vs. Mohd. Ishfaq (2009) case. These are listed below:

Actions that physicians, medical facilities, and nursing homes should take:

a. Comply with the infrastructure, paramedics, and other personnel guidelines, as well as sterility and hygiene standards. Two of the operation theater’s autoclaves were not operating correctly, according to an investigation into the Sarwat Ali Khan case, in which 14 patients lost their vision after an operation as a result of the doctor’s incompetence. These autoclaves, which are crucial for sterilizing cotton, pads, linen, and equipment, sustained damage since they were not in operating order.

b. Before a prescription is filled, a patient should be examined. Except in severe emergencies, prescriptions shouldn’t be issued over the phone.

c. Physicians should evaluate the patient’s symptoms independently, ordering tests and looking into possible causes. They must obtain the patient’s written agreement before attempting to administer medication.

d. It is best to seek an expert if in doubt. Accordingly, “mild lateral murine ischemia” was the diagnosis made for the patient in Indrani Bhattacharjee (OP No. 233 of 1996, decided on 9.8.2007 [NC]). For his gastroenteritis, the doctor gave him medication, but he relapsed. The physician was deemed negligent since he ought to have suggested in writing that a patient be sent to a cardiologist.

e. The diagnosis, course of treatment, etc., must all be fully documented.

Most Recent Development 

Section 106(1) of the Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita Bill, 2023 (BNSS) does not grant doctors a general exemption in situations when their negligence causes a death. It does, however, set a maximum sentence of two years in prison, which is marginally less severe than the penalty meted out in other situations. According to Section 106(2) of the BNSS, an individual who causes death by reckless or thoughtless actions that do not fall within the category of culpable homicide may face a maximum of five-year jail sentence and a fine. When performing a medical operation, a medical professional who acts rashly faces up to two years in prison.

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