Vipul Ganda is an Independent Litigation Counsel with over 14 years of experience and a proven track record in Litigation and Dispute Resolution.
Union of India and Ors. Versus N. K. Srivasta and Ors.
Court / Forum : Supreme Court of India Citation : 2020 SCC OnLine SC 636 Coram : Justice Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice Indu Malhotra and Justice K.M. Joseph Subject : Medical Negligence Date of Decision : July 23, 2020
Due to medical emergency, the Respondent No. 1 (“Complainant”) had taken his pregnant wife to Sarvodaya Hospital at about 5 am on March 9, 2004. A few hours after admission, she had a premature delivery and according to the Complainant, infant required medical care in Nursery ICU. The Complainant and his wife were referred to Safdarjung Hospital for admission of child in emergency medical care.
APrior to delivery, Sarvodaya Hospital had represented to the Complainant that, the hospital was fully equipped with Nursery ICU and when the Complainant realised the actual situation, the Complainant felt cheated. The Complainant proceeded to Safdarjung Hospital along with his spouse and infant between 12 pm and 1 pm on March 9, 2004. At the Safdarjung Hospital, instead of admitting the infant in Nursery ICU, he was admitted in General Ward and thereafter was shifted to General ICU. The infant died in the last week of April.
The Complainant presented a Complaint before the Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum- II, New Delhi (“District Forum”) seeking damages against Sarvodaya Hospital and Safdarjung Hospital. The said Complaint was dismissed by the District Forum and it was held that:
No misrepresentation of fact has been done by Sarvodaya Hospital and the said Hospital had an independent facility of Nursery and ICU. The spouse of the Complainant was operated upon in a state of emergency to save the lives of mother and infant. Therefore, there is no deficiency on part of Sarvodaya Hospital to refer the case to specialised facility.
Complaint is not maintainable against Safdarjung Hospital as treatment was given free of cost.
Aggrieved by the decision of District Forum, the Complainant preferred an Appeal before the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (“State Commission”) and vide judgement dated December 10, 2013 concluded that Sarvodaya Hospital is guilty of medical negligence and awarded compensation amounting to Rs. 2,00,000/- (Rupees Two Lacs Only) and costs amounting to Rs. 20,000/- (Rupees Twenty Thousand Only). Even though, the State Commission had found Safdarjung Hospital guilty of negligence, but the Complaint was held not to be maintainable against the Safdarjung Hospital as treatment was provided free.
Against the judgement of State Commission, Sarvodaya Hospital preferred a revision application before the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (“National Commission”) and vide judgement dated October 7, 2016 concluded that Sarvodaya Hospital was not guilty of medical negligence as the spouse was admitted in a precarious condition and was high risk patient. Further, the patient was referred to specialised facility after taking the consent of the Complainant. Also, the Complainant was not precluded from challenging a finding which was adverse to the Complainant in the revision petition. The Safdarjung Hospital was held guilty of medical negligence and was directed to pay compensation amounting to Rs. 2,00,000/- (Rupees Two Lacs Only).
Aggrieved by the decision of the National Commission, the Union of India, through the Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Safdarjung Hospital had preferred this Appeal before the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
Whether the Sarvodaya Hospital and Safdarjung Hospital are guilty of medical negligence?
The Hon’ble Supreme Court referred to the definition of service under section 2 (1) (o) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (“Act”) which provided that:
"service" means service of any description which is made available to the potential users and includes the provision of facilities in connection with banking, financing, insurance, transport, processing, supply of electrical or other energy, board or lodging or both, [housing construction], entertainment, amusement or the purveying of news or other information, but does not include rendering of any service free of charge or under a contract of personal service;
While interpreting the aforesaid definition, a three-judge bench of this Hon’ble Supreme Court had held that only when a hospital provides the services free to all the patients, it would be outside the purview of the Act. A hospital which provides free services to only a category of patients, while charging the same to bulk of others would not be outside the purview of jurisdiction of the consumer forum. Also, expenses incurred in providing free services are met out from the income from service rendered to paying patients.
In the present matter, only factual finding that was raised before the District Forum was that the patient was treated free of charge. A perusal of grounds of appeal in the Special Leave Petition show that not a single ground has been raised by Safdarjung Hospital challenging the factual finding that was arrived by National Commission with respect to jurisdiction nor any material was put on record to enable the court to decide on whether the case satisfies the tests laid down in Indian Medical Association vs. V.P. Shantha [(1995) 6 SCC 651]. Therefore, in absence of proper challenge before any of the fora, it would be inappropriate for this Court to give a conclusive opinion.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court affirmed the decision of National Commission on the ground that quantum of claim is small enough to not warrant the intervention of the Hon’ble Supreme Court. The decision given by the National Commission or this Court should not be treated as a precedent in any of the cases. The issue, whether Safdarjung Hospital would be governed by the provisions of the Act and more particularly section 2 (1)(o) of the Act is left open to be decided in an appropriate case.
Further, when the decision of State Commission was challenged by Sarvodaya Hospital, the National Commission reversed the finding on maintainability which was in favour of Safdarjung Hospital. The National Commission attempted to do ‘complete justice’ ignoring the fact that such jurisdiction is exclusively conferred upon this Court under Article 142 of the Constitution. In an appropriate case, it will have to be decided whether the National Commission in exercising its revisional jurisdiction has the power which has been conferred on an appellate court under Order XLI Rule 33 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.
Accordingly, the Hon’ble Supreme Court dismissed the Appeal with the direction that in compliance of decision of the National Commission, amount of Rs. 2,00,000/- (Rupees Two Lacs Only) to be paid to the Complainant within 2 months.