Medical Negligence


The word “medical negligence” is a broad term that has come into use to describe unlawful actions or omissions by medical practitioners in the course of their work when dealing with patients. It is not defined or mentioned in any of the Indian laws that have been passed. A doctor or a medical practitioner owes his patients certain duties: It is their responsibility to decide whether or not to take on the case, what treatment to give, and how the treatment should be administered. If a doctor fails to perform the aforementioned duties of care, it is considered a breach of duty, and the patient has the right to take action against them for the same.[1] In Dr. Suresh Gupta v. Govt. of NCT Delhi [2], the Supreme Court, the threshold of negligence required establishing criminal liability for a doctor or surgeon is kept being so high that it may be termed as “gross negligence” or “recklessness.” It’s not just a matter of not providing the appropriate care, attention, and skill. Judgment errors do not always infer negligence.[3]  Gross errors, such as using the wrong drug, removing the wrong limb, performing an operation on the wrong patient, leaving swab samples, etc. would all be considered negligence. This approach by the courts in determining criminal liability for doctors in the course of providing medical care to their patients is essentially needed so that the risks of medical professionals, being susceptible of civil liability do not unreasonably extend to criminal liability, putting them at risk of being imprisoned for alleged criminal negligence. A medical professional cannot be prosecuted for any incident or fatality that occurs during medical treatment. Criminal trials of doctors in the absence of appropriate medical evidence that indicates their guilt will be a massive disservice to the general community at large.  If the courts start to hold the medical professionals criminally liable for anything and everything that goes wrong, doctors and hospitals will start to get more concerned about their personal wellbeing than providing the best care to their patients. This would jeopardize the mutual trust innate in a doctor-patient relationship. Criminal and civil culpability are not mutually incompatible remedies, and both may be available for the same act of negligence. The demand for damages in civil liability is made in the form of compensation. If a breach of duty of care occurs under the observation a medical practitioner or a hospital, they are held to be vicariously liable for such negligence and are liable to pay the necessary compensation for the same. Different doctors have different treatment practices, for example, some are more radical, and others are more conventional. All doctors cannot be pigeonholed within a formulized category and cannot be penalized or punished if they deviate from it. Sometimes, despite a doctor’s best efforts, a treatment fails. For example, occasionally a patient dies. This doesn’t imply that the medical practitioner must be always blamed and held guilty of medical malpractice unless there is compelling evidence to the contrary.

Some of the misfortunes of life are unavoidable occurrences for which no one has moral responsibility. Some are mistakes for which there is no clear culpability. Others are incidents of culpable behavior that are bases for compensation and, in certain cases, punishment. Making a distinction among these diverse categories necessitates a thorough, morally sensitive, and scientifically informed examination.[4] Frivolous claims against doctors in our country have been rapidly rising, particularly after the introduction of the medical profession within the ambits of the Consumer Protection Act[5] After the judgment of the Supreme Court in Indian Medical Association vs. V.P. Shantha. [6] The result is that many doctors have stopped administering certain drugs and treatments out o in certain cases, even though the patient may require them, out of fear of legal proceedings[7]. This too necessitates the need of having high standards for establishing medical negligence. The law does not want to encroach on the space that should be reserved for medical specialists, and judges do not strive to impose their own expertise on them. The legal system strives to strike a careful balance between a doctor’s autonomy in making decisions and a patient’s entitlement to be treated fairly.

Author’s Name: Aishwarya Kapoor 

[1] Laxman Balkrishna Joshi (Dr) v. Dr. Trimbak Bapu Godbole AIR 1969 SC 128.

[2] Dr. Suresh Gupta vs Govt. Of N.C.T. Of Delhi & Anr, Appeal (crl.)  778 of 2004.

[3] Spring Meadows Hospital v. Harjol Ahluwalia (1998) 4 SCC 39.


[5] The Consumer Protection Act, 2019, § 69(c), No. 35, Acts of Parliament, 2019 (India).

[6] 1995 SCC (6) 651

[7]Amit Agrawal ,Medical negligence: Indian legal perspective NCBI S9,2016.

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