Sunday, October 1, 2023

Medical Negligence & Res Ipsa Loquitur - Where Negligence Is Evident, Burden Of Proof Shifts To Hospital: Supreme Court

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Judgment delivered on September 26, the Supreme Court affirmed the applicability of the principle of res ipsa loquitur in the context of medical negligence cases, emphasizing its applicability in cases where negligence is evident and shifts the burden of proof onto the hospital or medical practitioners. Res ipsa loquitur means "the thing speaks for itself”.

The Court affirmed this principle while awarding Rs 1.5 crore compensation to an ex-Indian Air Force official who contracted HIV during a blood transfusion at a military hospital.

It observed that “the condition in which the appellant found himself, was the direc consequence of the two hospital establishments and their breach of the standards of care, resulting in the transfusion of the HIV-positive infected blood into the appellant, which was the causative factor. The necessary foundational facts, to hold that the application of res ipsa loquitur was warranted, were proved in all detail. The respondents failed to discharge the onus that fell upon them, to establish that due care was in fact exercised and all necessary care standards, applicable at the time, were complied with. As a result, it is held that the respondents are liable to compensate the appellant for the injuries suffered by him.”

The Court held both the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force jointly and severally liable for medical negligence

The bench comprising Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Justice Dipankar Datta was hearing an appeal against a judgment of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission(NCDRC) which denied the compensation claimed by the Air Veteran.

The Court began by citing Charlesworth & Percy on Negligence(14th Ed. 2018) to define this principle as a case that "calls for some answer from the defendant and will arise upon proof of:

(1) the happening of some unexplained occurrence;

(2) which would not have happened in the ordinary course of things without negligence on the part of somebody other than the claimant; and

(3) the circumstances point to the negligence in question being that of the defendant, rather than that of any other person."

The Court referred to several previous judgments, including V. Kishan Rao v Nikhil Super Speciality Hospital (2010) 5 S.C.R. 1 which emphasized that when negligence is evident, "the principle of res ipsa loquitur operates, and the complainant does not have to prove anything as the thing proves itself." In such cases, it becomes the responsibility of the respondent to demonstrate that they have taken due care and fulfilled their duty to refute the charge of negligence.

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