The Karnataka High Court has suggested that medical professionals should be protected from legal action just like public servants are protected against bonafide errors in their action.
Justice Krishna S Dixit expressed that more often than not, the cases of medical negligence are launched recklessly by the patients and their relatives. The court said “Compensation culture” which obtains in other jurisdictions is gradually gaining entry to the field of medical services in our society affecting a healthy relationship of doctor & patient.
Stating that a large chunk of cases of medical negligence does not involve bonafide claims, the court enumerated the motives of people seeking compensation. It said, “The motivation of people bringing actions for medical negligence are more complicated, some sue for money; others sue for getting an acceptance of guilt; some others do it to ensure that errors would not be repeated.”
Following which the court opined, “The ‘compensation culture’ be it truth or a myth in varying degrees, has given rise to risk aversion. Medical professionals having a complaint made against them gather an impression that there is an unjustifiable attack on their professional integrity and reputation, this may lead to a defensive response of the medicos ultimately resulting in enormous cost escalation in medical services.”
Following which it suggested,
The Karnataka Medical Council had, by its order dated May 7, 2009, had issued a warning to petitioner Dr Ganesh Nayak for the alleged occupational lapse, namely some procedural breach in accomplishing angioplasty to one 65-year old woman named Yellamma. This was challenged before the High Court.
The court while quashing the impugned order and absolving the doctor of all allegations, said, “The patient had some significant problem with Cardio Vascular Vein since long and therefore, she had undergone angiogram at the hands of the petitioner. However, the medical records including the impugned order prima facie show that the cause of death is the serious bacterial infection later contracted, there is huge time gap between accomplishment of angioplasty by the petitioner and the demise of the patient; there is nothing on record to show that the alleged deficiency in professional service accelerated the process of health deterioration that eventually resulted into her death.”
It held, “Some positive evidentiary material was necessary to eliminate the possible nova causa interveniens. Therefore, there is no reasonable connect or nexus between the medical procedure done by the petitioner and death of the patient.”
The court then noted that the realm of medicine is an ever growing branch of uncertain knowledge. It observed, “The advancement of science & technology has to some extent reduced the level of such uncertainty and enhanced the degree of probability, is also true. However, it cannot be disputed that the medical field is still in a fluid state.”
It added, “Even if it is shown that a drug or a procedure did cause an injury, it is difficult to ascertain whether this is because of the drug or the procedure. For example, it might be that the drug or the procedure is not defective if it provides a cure for the vast majority of people, although it has undesirable consequences for a small number of people. If a patient is of the unlucky few, there will be difficulty in concluding that the drug or the procedure was actionably defective. This is only to highlight the uncertain causation obtaining in the realm of medical liability, this aspect ought to have animated the decision making process that culminated into the impugned order of penalty. However, that having not happened, the impugned order suffers from another legal infirmity.”
Finally the court said, “During COVID pandemic, how the doctors and paramedics served our society does not fade away from the public memory, society has to gratefully appreciate the valuable services rendered by the medicos.” It clarified that “Doctors’ is a profession wherein service ought to be the motto and not the profit, as any professionals, they too are not immune from legal action for medical negligence.”
Case Title: Dr Ganesh Nayak v. V Shamanna
Case No: Writ Petition No.21688 oF 2009
Date of Order: 14th Day Of January, 2022
Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Kar) 16
Appearance: Advocate Palecanda M Chinnappa, a/w Advocate Anupama Hebbar, for petitioner; Advocate P Jagannathan, for R1; Advocate D S Hosmath, for R2
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