Madras HC Exonerates Doctor Accused Of Gross Negligence For Death Of Woman Given Nitrous Oxide Instead Of Oxygen [Read Order]

Madras HC Exonerates Doctor Accused Of Gross Negligence For Death Of Woman Given Nitrous Oxide Instead Of Oxygen [Read Order]

Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court recently set aside the criminal proceedings initiated against a government doctor in a case accusing him of gross negligence.

The order was passed by Justice G. Jayachandran on a revision petition filed by one Dr. Muthu Shenbagam.

The case involved the death of a women a year after she was administered nitrous oxide instead of oxygen. The incident dates back to 2011, when she was admitted to the Kanyakumari Government Hospital for birth control operation. It was then alleged that the cylinder which was supposed to contain oxygen contained nitrous oxide instead due to the negligence of Dr. Shenbagam, who was in charge of the stores.

He had now submitted that on the day of the incident, he was off duty and was in no way connected with the mishap. Some of the entries, he said, were made by the store keeper without his knowledge. He had further asserted the he was a public servant and hence, cannot be prosecuted without government sanction under Section 197 of the Code of Criminal procedure.

The prosecution, on the other hand, had asserted that there existed prima facie material against Dr. Shenbagam, submitting that he was in charge of the stores and was required to supervise the indent and receipt of store materials. He was therefore alleged to have committed gross negligence by not making sure that the cylinder was filled with oxygen.

The Court, however, noted that Tirunelveli Drug Inspector had immediately conducted an investigation into the incident and had filed a complaint against the gas company for their negligence. This complaint, it said, indicated that the error was committed only by the gas company and not by the hospital. The company had, in fact, thereafter pleaded guilty and had paid the fine amount.

Justice Jayachandran further took note of the evidence on record to opine that Dr. Shenbagam could not have contributed to the incident in any way. He explained, “…the prosecution cannot attribute knowledge about change of gas to this revision petitioner.  He cannot even remotely held responsible for filling up of Nitrous Oxide (N2O) in the cylinder meant for Oxygen.  Further more, when there is an evident to show that on the fateful day, this revision petition was not on duty and no way near the operation theatre, the ingredients of Sections 284, 338, 304-A IPC r/w. 304 IPC do not get attracted.” 

While Section 284 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals with negligent conduct with respect to poisonous substances, Section 338 of IPC deals with causing grievous hurt to any person by indulging in a rash and negligent act which endangers human life or the personal safety of others. Section 304A of IPC penalises causing death by negligence.

The revision petition was therefore allowed, with the court noting that no purpose will be served in continuing the trial against Dr. Shenbagam.

Read the Order Here