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Doctor Is Vicariously Liable For The Acts Of His Team Members: National Commission

Death of a child is always painful and if that is due to negligence it can’t get worse. The case is about the death of a three year old girl who was diagnosed from blood cancer. The little one was given three cycles of chemotherapy, and then her bone marrow test was conducted which showed that her condition had improved. The requisite injections for the fourth cycle were handed over to Dr Harjit Singh Kohli who were assisting Dr Raman Arora. Instructions were given by Dr Arora that the medicine Vincristine was to be administered intravenously only.

However, Dr Kohli administered the injection intrathecally (through back bone injection), which led to the death of the young girl. The aggrieved parents of child filed a complaint before the State Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission which held that the doctors and hospital (vicariously) committed gross negligence. The State Commission held all the doctors including Dr Raman Arora vicariously responsible for the death of the girl as she was under his care. The National Commission also agreed with the decision of the State Government and held that the hospital was vicariously liable for the negligence of the doctors.

Read the detailed report of the case

A doctor is vicariously liable for the negligence committed by members of his team which was assisting in the treatment, held the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission while dismissing an appeal. A Coram of R.K. Agrawal (President), J. and M. Shreesha (Member) allowed an appeal against the order of State Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission, Punjab that directed a doctor to compensate an aggrieved couple for the death of their three year old daughter caused by gross negligence.

Respondent herein was the father of a three-year-old girl who was diagnosed with blood cancer. The child was admitted in the hospital where Dr Raman Arora prepared a written protocol of the treatment detailing that the patient was to be given four cycles of chemotherapy for which injections of Vincristine were to be given intravenously and injections of Methotrexate were to be administered intrathecally. Dr Vandana Bhambri and Dr Harjit Singh Kohli assisted him. The patient was given three cycles of chemotherapy, and then her bone marrow test was conducted which showed that her condition had improved. The requisite injections for the fourth cycle were handed over to Dr Harjit Singh Kohli in a sealed packet where it was clearly written that the medicine Vincristine was to be administered intravenously only. However, Dr Kohli administered the injection intrathecally (through back bone injection), which led to the depletion in the health of the patient and ultimately she died. The aggrieved parents of child filed a complaint before the State Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission which held that the doctors and hospital (vicariously) committed gross negligence. The present appeal was filed by the hospital and doctors challenging the said order.

The Commission while passing the order, relied on S.K. Jhunjhunwala v. Dhanwanti Kumari, (2019) 2 SCC 282, and applied the principle of Bolam Test that gives grounds to hold a professional liable for negligence; and ruled that the doctors were negligent in their conduct. It was held that that admittedly the entire standard protocol was given by Dr Raman Arora and the entire treatment was rendered under his care. Therefore, he was liable for any acts/ commission or omissions done by his team or the assistants who assisted him in rendering treatment to the patient.
The National Commission remarked that the State Commission had rightly relied on the expert opinion given by the Indian Medical Association, Ludhiana which held the doctors responsible for gross negligence. Placing reliance on Achutrao Haribhau Khodwa v. State of Maharashtra, (1996) 2 SCC 634, it was held that the hospital was vicariously liable for the negligent acts of its doctors. The appeal was resultantly dismissed.

Written by:
Ankur Saha,
Head- Legal, VOICE

Divya Patwal

VOICE