West Bengal: Quoting the Supreme Court’s observation that says “a free service would also be a service and the recipient a consumer”, a consumer court in West Bengal directed a government-run hospital to compensate Rs 19 lakh to the family of the patient, who allegedly died to the improper anti-rabies vaccination.
The case relates to a fifteen-year-old Dinanath Chowdhury, who was taken to Chandannagar Sub Divisional Hospital after he was bitten by a street dog on 12.06.1996. After reaching the hospital, the patient was provided first aid by the attending doctors and was advised anti-rabies vaccine starting from 18.06.1996 till 27.06.1996.
However, even after the vaccine course, the patient became unwell and was taken to ID Hospital, Beliaghata on 07.08.1996, where he succumbed two days later. This led to his family suspecting that 10 injections which were administered in the hospital were ‘fake’.
The patient’s father filed a case with the Hooghly Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum 22 years ago, alleging that the doctor did not administer the proper effective anti-rabies vaccine. He contended that as per the circular issued by the Government of West Bengal dated 07.03.1995, the authorities had fixed charges for various services rendered by government hospitals and in light of such circular; the medical services rendered by the hospital were not completely free and he had to pay on some counts.
The hospital in their defense said that the family did not hire any service for consideration and did not become a consumer as the services provided by them were free of charge.
Therefore, the family’s appeal got dismissed. At that time, the forum said that the “deceased was not a consumer as he had availed free treatment from the government hospital.”
Dissatisfied with the verdict, the family then appealed to the court but faced rejection again. At the third time, the family filed another petition with the state consumer court in 2012, in which they cited the said Supreme Court observation i.e., “free service would also be a service and the recipient a consumer”. Thereafter, the matter was then sent back to the district forum.
“Nowhere in the complaint, the complainant has stated that his son Dinanath Chowdhury was bitten by a rabid dog on 12.06.1996,” the doctors contended, adding that the outdoor ticket of the patient dated 13.06.1996 revealed that the doctor of the Hospital was informed only of dog bites and not that he was bitten by rabid dog.
The counsel for the hospital further submitted that the father took the patient to the hospital, not on the date of the incident. “There is no mention in the outdoor ticket the date of the bite by a rabid dog. So the actual date is still covered with darkness. Had he been so taken and had the doctor been so informed that immunization would have been given on the very first day?” the hospital reiterated.
However, Hon’ble West Bengal Human Rights Commission had taken cognizance of the matter and investigated the unfortunate death of complainant’s son through enquiry committee consisting of Dr. B.P. Pradhan, Dr. D.K. Neogy and Dr. S.K. Maitra. The said enquiry committee, after taking all matters into consideration, had arrived at the following findings which had led to the death of complainant’s son Dinanath.
i) Inherent incompetence of the type of vaccine.
ii) Failure to preserve the vaccine under ideal conditions.
iii) Probable inadequacy of dose administered.
While noting the previous forum hearings, the bench presided by honourable Justice Sri Biswanath De and members Justice Smt. Devi Sengupta and Justice Sri Samaresh Kr. Mitra asserted,
“The complainant preferred appeal bearing no. SC 568/A of 1998 which was allowed and the Chandannagar Sub-divisional Hospital was directed to pay compensation of Rs. 5,000/- to the appellant and the Director of the Health Service, Govt. of West Bengal were directed to pay Rs. 2, 00,000/- to the appellant for his failure to supply proper quality serum……The death of the son causes immense sufferings of the family. That son after having maturity might have done some work and earn some money for the help of the family. But the death of unfortunate boy has emerged the family in the world of uncertainty.”
In conclusion, the bench determined the quantum of compensation that should be given to the deceased patient’s family and said,
“So, after deep contemplation over the principle of law and reason explained in different cases decided by the Hon’ble National Commission and Hon’ble Supreme Court we are of opinion that Rs. 19, 20,000/- if given as compensation for the death of Dinanath Chowdhury to the family of Dinanath Chowdhury then complainant’s loss will be satiated, at least, financial side and the soul of deceased shall be in peace who died for want of proper treatment.”