17 May 2023 2:30 PM GMT
The Delhi State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission bench comprising Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal and Judicial Member Mrs Pinki held that in cases involving allegations against medical professionals, negligence is a crucial element of the offence, which involves the failure to perform a duty by omission that a reasonable person would do or avoid doing. Negligence cannot be...
The Delhi State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission bench comprising Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal and Judicial Member Mrs Pinki held that in cases involving allegations against medical professionals, negligence is a crucial element of the offence, which involves the failure to perform a duty by omission that a reasonable person would do or avoid doing. Negligence cannot be automatically assumed in unsuccessful treatments. Further, the bench was of the view that as long as a doctor performs their duties with reasonable skill and competence, they cannot be deemed negligent, and they are protected under the law as long as they follow these standards.
On September 30, 2000, the Patient (Complainant) visited the Doctor's clinic due to her tooth pain. During the examination, the Doctor noticed that the Patient's upper front teeth protruded outward and her parents mentioned her history of polyp (growth in the nose) causing recurrent cold and mouth breathing. The doctor suggested an orthodontic treatment for a fee of Rs.19,000 payable in instalments, which the Patient agreed to without receiving a detailed written plan. An assistant doctor was instructed to perform the filling and provide a quotation for fees and expenses, which the Patient paid Rs.10,000 for in cash without receiving a proper receipt. The treatment included a clay impression of the Patient's teeth, which was kept by the clinic staff on the pretext of returning them upon completion of treatment. The Patient followed all instructions, including breathing exercises, but the treatment did not improve her jaw, teeth, or facial appearance. It worsened her teeth and jaw lining, leading to distorted facial bone and pain. The Doctor stopped recording her visits and did not return her mould, but advised her to wear a plate continuously, which did not help. On September 4, 2004, allegedly, the Doctor forced the Patient to write down the treatment plan on plain paper, and on a revision visit, wrote down further instructions. The Patient requested the Doctor to return her mould in order to seek treatment elsewhere, and Doctor returned it. The Patient alleged that she paid over Rs.2,10,000 and made over 50 visits to the clinic, causing irreparable damages and injury to her teeth and jaw lining, and brought a complaint seeking a refund of Rs.19,000 and compensation of Rs.15,21,000 for the Doctor's unfair trade practice and professional misconduct. The District Commission while taking into consideration the submissions made by the Patient held that she was not serious about their treatment and was only using it to bring this complaint within the limitation period, further, it was concluded that there was no negligence or deficiency in service on the part of the Doctor, and the complaint was dismissed for lack of merit. The Patient challenged the District Commission’s finding in the Delhi State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.
The Patient claimed that the District Commission ignored the doctor's fault and only focused on limitations. She further argued that the complaint was filed within six days and the genuine complaint was wrongly dismissed.
The Doctor primarily stated that there was no error in the impugned judgment as the District Commission properly considered all material available on record before passing the judgment.
Observations of the Commission
The Delhi State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (hereinafter referred to as “State Commission”) concurred with the District Commission's decision that the complaint was not barred by the Limitation Period. The State Commission observed that the District Commission reviewed the available documents and concluded that the complaint was filed within the prescribed two-year period and was not time-barred. This was held in reply to the first argument put forth by the Patient that the District Commission has failed to deal with the consumer complaint on merits and decided solely upon the ground of limitation.
Coming to the next primary contention raised by the Patient that the District Commission wrongly dismissed the bonafide complaint of the Patient, the State Commission first examined the liability of the respondent by referring to the case of Seema Garg & Anr. vs. Superintendent, Manohar Lohia Hospital & Anr CC- 324/2013 wherein it was held that in medical cases, negligence is necessary to prove the offence, which involves not doing what a reasonable person would, but if a doctor performs their duties with reasonable skill and competence, they are not considered negligent and protected by the law. Further, it noted that the Patient had not challenged the competency of the Doctor, therefore, the State Commission held that there was no lack of competency on the part of the Doctor. However, the State Commission referred to the second part of the submission where the Patient questioned the omission on the part of the Doctor. The State Commission, to answer this question, referred to the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Harish Kumar Khurana vs. Joginder Singh and Ors. AIR 2021 SC 4690 where the court held that in every case where the treatment is not successful or the patient dies during surgery, it cannot be automatically assumed that the medical professional was negligent. To indicate negligence there should be material available on record or else appropriate medical evidence should be tendered. Referring to the facts at hand, the State Commission was of the view that the allegation by the Patient that the Doctor was negligent in treating her, was alone not enough to hold the Doctor liable for medical negligence. Further, the State Commission held that the Patient failed to provide evidence to show that the treatment given by the Doctor breached a duty or was unacceptable to the medical profession. As a result, the Patient’s allegations remained unsupported by evidence and were rejected. Therefore, the State Commission held that the Patient failed to prove any negligence on the part of the Doctor. The appeal was dismissed and the order of the District Commission was upheld.
Case: Ms Divya Chauhan Vs. Dr S.P. Aggarwal
Case No.: First Appeal No.-238/2013
Counsel for the Petitioner(s): Mr. F.S. Chauhan
Counsel for the Respondent(s): Mr Jagmohan Sharma
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