Medical negligence cases often launched recklessly by patients to make fast buck: Karnataka High Court

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The Karnataka High Court recently observed that cases of medical negligence against doctors and hospitals are often launched recklessly, and “compensation culture” which is common in other countries is gradually, gaining entry in medical services in India [Dr. Ganesh Nayak vs. V Shamanna and Ors]

Justice Krishna S Dixit said that certain people sue doctors in the hope of making quick money and such trend should be deprecated.

“More often than not cases of medical negligence are launched recklessly by patients and their relatives…courts have been nowadays observing that an unscrupulous section of people are prone to use the slightest opportunity to sue doctors and hospitals in the hope of making fast buck,” the single-judge noted.

The Court lauded the services rendered by medical health professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic while emphasising that society has to appreciate the valuable services of the medical community.

The observations were made in a judgment absolving a doctor of allegations about lapse in performing an angioplasty on a patient who subsequently died.

The petitioner, Dr. Ganesh Nayak, had approached the High Court against the punishment of ‘warning’ rendered against him by the Karnataka Medical Council.

The counsel for the petitioner-doctor argued that the patient was suffering from multiple ailments and was being treated by several doctors at different hospitals. Despite the same, the allegation of negligence was made only against the petitioner without offering any reasons as to why the other doctors who had treated her were not asked to appear before the Court.

The Court agreed with the same noting that the patient was 65 years old and suffering from ailments which are natural because of old age. She had cardio-vascular problems for a long time, for which the petitioner had performed an angioplasty operation on her.

Medical records showed that the cause of her death was a serious bacterial infection which she contracted at a later point in time, and there was a huge time gap between the angioplasty and her death. Moreover, the records did not show that the deterioration of her health which resulted in her death, was connected to the alleged deficiency in the medical procedure conducted by the petitioner-doctor, the Court noted.

The Court cited the 2019 judgment of the Supreme Court in Arun Kumar Manglik vs. Chirayu Health and Medicare Private Ltd, to hold that positive evidentiary material is required to show the connection between the medical procedure done by the doctor and the death of the patient, to prove medical negligence.

In this backdrop, the Court proceeded to make observations about the increase in the number of frivolous claims made against doctors and hospitals.

Some of them do it for money, others want an acceptance of guilt, while some may sue to ensure that errors are not repeated, the Court said.

However, a large number of cases are not genuine claims and such cases give rise to risk aversion on the part of medical professionals.

It may lead them to become defensive, which can result in an enormous increase in the cost of medical services, the Court further said.

Pertinently, the single-judge opined that medical professionals should get protection for bonafide errors the same way public servants are legally protected from such mistakes.

Quoting the Canadian physician William Osler ,’medicine is a science of uncertainty and an art of probability’, the Court remarked that medicine is an ever growing branch of uncertain knowledge. While advances in science and technology have reduced this level of uncertainty, the medical field is still in a fluid stage, the Court observed.

Even when it is shown that a particular drug or procedure was the cause of the injury, it is difficult to ascertain whether that procedure was “actionably defective”, as it may cure the vast majority of people but have undesirable consequences for a few persons. This uncertain causation in the realm of medical liability should have been considered by the Karnataka Medical Council before they passed their order against the petitioner-doctor, the Court ruled.

While quashing the order of the Medical Council, the judge clarified that service and not profit must be the motto for doctors, and just like other professionals, medical professionals are not immune from legal action for negligence, as laid down by the Supreme Court in Indian Medical Association vs. V.P Shantha.

Read Judgment here:

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