Despite no medical negligence, Govt Hospital told to pay compensation
Madurai: In a move that is going to have a major impact on the functioning of the medical cases pertaining to government hospitals, the Madras High Court has recently held that in case of a government hospital, even despite no medical negligence, if there is an injury, then the government should pay compensation.
Opining that there had been no medical negligence on the part of the doctors and anaesthetist of Government Head Hospital, Aruppukottai, the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court had further stated that since the 8-year-old patient had gone to the Government hospital for treatment, the Government should pay Rs. 5 lakh as "ex-gratia" to the deceased girl's family belonging to a notified scheduled caste community from the corpus fund of the Government.
The judgment dated 01.02.2021 by Justice G.R.Swaminathan had added in a recent order: "When a patient is admitted in a government hospital for treatment and he/she suffers any injury or death which is not anticipated to occur in the normal course of events, even in the absence of medical negligence, the government is obliged to disburse ex-gratia to the affected party."
This comes after the the father of the deceased patient had filed the writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India for just and reasonable compensation of a sum of Rs.20,00,000/- (Twenty Lakhs Rupees) for the death of his daughter. The Respondents in the case had been The State of Tamil Nadu, The Deputy Director of Health Services (Multipurpose Female Training Campus), The Dean, Government Rajaji Hospital, The Joint Director, Health Service, Government Head Hospital, The Medical Officer, Government Head Hospital, The District Collector, The Inspector of Police, Aruppukottai Town Police Station, a Pediatrician, an Anaesthetist, Government Head Hospital, an ENT Surgeon, The Director of Medical Services, Chennai.
The petitioner, father of the deceased patient, had pleaded the High Court in the petition to direct the respondents, the Government bodies, to pay the compensation for the negligent treatment given by the doctors and anesthetist of Government Head Hospital, Aruppukottai. Apart from the petition filed by Tamil Selvi, the HC had been listening to the suo motu vide court order dated 25.01.2021.
The case ensued in 2016, the year that had cost the life of the patient, aged about eight years, who was suffering from tonsils and she had been admitted in Government Hospital, Aruppukottai on 07.04.2016 for treatment. Following the examination of the child, it had been suggested that she must undergo surgery. She had been an inpatient for this purpose on 13.04.2016.
In order to prepare the child for the operation, anaesthesia was administered by Anesthetist of Government Head Hospital. Unfortunately, the little girl had developed some complications and she had been shifted to Rajaji Government Hospital, Madurai for further treatment. After being shifted to Madurai Hospital, Sangeetha had gone into coma and eventually passed away on 05.07.2016.
Following this, the father had alleged that the death of the child was purely due to medical negligence on the part of the private respondents and had filed the case before the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court demanding compensation.
The counsels for the Government and private parties had opposed the prayer mentioned in the writ petition and had filed their counter-affidavits.
The counsel for the private respondents, the doctors and staff of Government Head Hospital, had submitted before the Court the "literature on the subject". He had submitted that for the purpose of anaesthesia, the child had been administrated a drug known as Propofol. He further mentioned before the court that Propofol had not been an intrinsically dangerous drug and it had been very much administered to children above 3 years of age. It had also been submitted that however there might be implications for children with mitochondrial diseases. There had been nothing on record to indicate that the deceased child had the said decease and that it was omitted to be noticed by the doctors in question.
After carefully listening to all the arguments made by all the parties, the HC bench had observed that the counsel for the petitioner had alleged that due to the medical negligence on the part of the doctors and anaesthetist of the Government Hospital, the child had died. However, the Court mentioned that "The issue of medical negligence requires a factual determination."
In order to look into the aspect of medical negligence, following the complaint lodged by the father, an inquiry had been conducted on the same. The report by a four-member committee had been submitted on 17.06.2016. The report had clearly stated that "there was no medical negligence on the part of the doctors."
Then, in order to explain the death of the little girl, the Court had referred to the "literature on the subject" as submitted by the petitioner for the private parties involved in the case, i.e. the doctors and anaesthetist of the Government Hospital. It had mentioned about the implications for children with mitochondrial diseases.
"There are always instances when a drug does not accord with the body of the patient and that leads to unfortunate complications. The case on hand appears to be one such. Therefore, I do not find any ground to hold that the respondent anesthetists have committed any act of medical negligence," observed the Court.
However, even though the Court had denied the aspect of medical negligence, it hadn't denied the issue of compensation altogether. While addressing the issue, the Court had mentioned "the petitioner belongs to Hindu Pallar community. It is a notified scheduled caste community. Her child was admitted in a Government Hospital for tonsil surgery. The learned counsel for the respondents would state that such surgeries are regularly performed in Government Hospital, Aruppukottai. The petitioner's child should have been discharged after successfully conducting surgery. But what the petitioner got was only the dead body of her child. Neither the petitioner nor her child was at fault."
"When a patient is admitted in a government hospital for treatment and he/she suffers any injury or death which is not anticipated to occur in the normal course of events, even in the absence of medical negligence, the government is obliged to disburse exgratia to the affected party. In the case on hand, liability has to be fastened on the government. Since the institution happens to be the Government institution, the Government of Tamil Nadu will have to necessarily take consequence," ruled the High Court.
The HC bench then referred to the G.O(Ms)No.395 dated 04.09.2018 that had mentioned a corpus fund created by the Tamil Nadu Government. The HC further noted,
"It appears that every Government doctor contributes a certain sum of money towards this corpus fund and whenever compensation is directed to be paid by the courts, amount will be drawn from this fund and paid."
Considering all the circumstances of the present case, the Court had finally ordered, "that the petitioner deserves to be paid a sum of Rs.5.00 lakhs as compensation. The said amount shall be paid by the department/Government from the said fund. Such payment will be made to the petitioner within a period of eight weeks from the date of receipt of copy of this order. Since the enquiry conducted by the department itself had exonerated the private respondents from any charge of negligence, the question of recovering the said amount from their salary will not arise."
To view the original court order, click on the link below.