SC: Sympathy cannot translate into a legal remedy.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court on 25th February 2019, in the matter of Vinod Jain v. Santokba Durlabhji Memorial Hospital & Anr. pronounced that where there is no evidence to show any unexplained deviation from standard protocol, state commission cannot act as a super-appellate medical authority by granting damages on a premise that the Doctor could have pursued an alternative mode of treatment. Also, where a special skill/ competence is attributed to a doctor, he need not possess the highest expert skill, at the risk of being found negligent.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that:

(Para 9)A fundamental aspect, which has to be kept in mind is that a doctor cannot be said to be negligent if he is acting in accordance with a practice accepted as proper by a reasonable body of medical men skilled in that particular art, merely because there is a body of such opinion that takes a contrary view (Bolam v. Friern Hospital Management Committee[(1957) 1 WLR 582 :: (1957) 2 All ER 118] )

In cases of medical negligence, where a special skill or competence is attributed to a doctor, a doctor need not possess the highest expert skill, at the risk of being found negligent, and it would suffice if he exercises the ordinary skill of an ordinary competent man exercising that particular art. A situation, thus, cannot be countenanced, which would be a disservice to the community at large, by making doctors think more of their own safety than of the good of their patients. (Para 9)

(Para 10) Thus, any individual approaching such a skilled person would have a reasonable expectation of a degree of care and caution, but there could be no assurance of the result. A physician, thus, would not assure a full recovery in every case, and the only assurance given, by implication, is that he possesses the requisite skills in the branch of the profession, and while undertaking the performance of his task, he would exercise his skills with reasonable competence. Thus, a liability would only come, if

  • either the person (doctor) did not possess the requisite skills, which he professed to have possessed; or
  • he did not exercise, with reasonable competence in a given case, the skill which he did possess.

Where there is no evidence to show any unexplained deviation from standard protocol, state commission cannot act as a super-appellate medical authority by granting damages on a premise that the Doctor could have pursued an alternative mode of treatment. (This inference has been drawn on the basis of para 16)

Copy of judgement: Judgement_25-Feb-2019

-Tushar Kaushik

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