The Indian legal system has been rather slow to grasp the ever changing developments in international legal system on medical negligence. At first, most claims with regard to medical negligence only came under the purview as a criminal offense and claims were made under the Indian Penal Code to deal with complex cases of bodily harm caused to the patients. The case of Juggankhan V State of Madhya Pradesh can be taken as a prime example; where a homeopathy doctor had prescribed an ayurvedic medicine which turned out to be poisonous was held guilty of causing death to the patient due to his “gross negligence”[1]. In addition to that, though the doctor was found guilty and imprisoned for acting in a negligent manner, the family of the claimant could not pursue a claim for damages under tort law as the remedy was not made available to them[2].

The introduction of the CPA Act, 1986 provided a civil remedy to claimants to seek damages and compensation for injuries sustained by them due to medical negligence. Claimants were allowed to seek remedies by filing a complaint under Section 11(i), 17 or 21 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986[3]. These complaints will only be entertained by the district, state or national commissions if it were filed within a period of 2 years, unless it can be proved otherwise that the claimant had sufficient cause for the delay[4].

The landmark case of Jacob Matthew decided by the Supreme Court of India in 2005 finally laid the guidelines governing the laws of medical negligence in India[5]. This case not only established the guidelines governing medical negligence, but also provided remedies to the  claimants by given them the liberty to claim compensation for injuries sustained and file a criminal complaint to prosecute the doctors for negligence under criminal law[6]. However, the current issue that the Indian judiciary are facing is that they interpret the words “rash or negligent“ under S.304A of the IPC,1860 as “ grossly negligent”. This interpretation makes it a very difficult task for claimants to prove their case that the doctors acted in a negligent manner and in addition to that the courts tend to use this interpretation whilst deciding claims made by the aggrieved parties for cases of ordinary negligence[7]. Furthermore, there is a thin line between the Civil Liability and the Criminal Liability, and no sufficiently good criteria is yet been devised by the Hon’ble Supreme Court to help provide clear and explicit guidance.

There are three essential components to prove that a medical professional acted in a negligent manner; Duty of Care, Breach of that duty and the damage or injury sustained by the patient.

[1] Juggankhan V State of Madhya Pradesh AIR 1965 SC 831

[2] Ibid

[3] The Consumer Protection Act,1986 – Section 11(i), 17 & 21

[4] Ibid – Section 24A

[5] Jacob Matthew V State of Punjab & Anr. (2005) 6 SCC 1

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

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