New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday awarded Rs 6,08,00,550 compensation to Dr Kunal Saha, an Indian-American doctor, ordering the Kolkata-based Advanced Medicare Research Institute (AMRI) to pay for medical negligence resulting in the death of his wife Anuradha Saha in 1988.
A bench of Justice C K Prasad and Justice V Gopala Gowda passed the order in their judgment on an appeal by Dr Saha, challenging the compensation of Rs 1.72 crore awarded by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC). Cross appeals were also filed by AMRI and three doctors against the Commission’s award.
Welcoming the verdict, Dr Saha said the “historic” judgement should rekindle hope for countless victims.
The US-based NRI said it should tell many honest and caring doctors it is time to step forward and cleanse the system.
“If you let a few corrupt and politically connected doctors to run the show, all doctors will continue to share the blame and will never be able to restore public trust that we had not so long ago,” he said in a statement.
The court directed that the hospital would pay compensation to Dr Saha, within eight weeks, along with yearly interest of 6 per cent from the date of the complaint. Allowing AMRI to deduct what it had already paid, the court also asked to file a compliance report.
The court has asked two doctors — Dr Balram Prasad and Dr Sukumar Mukherjee — to pay Rs 10 lakh each and asked another doctor, Baidyanath Haldar, to pay Rs 5 lakh to Dr Saha.
Since three doctors, after the NCDRC decision, had already made payment in excess of one fixed by the apex court, the court said that they are entitled for reimbursement from AMRI, which should do so within eight weeks.
The court took several factors into account in fixing the compensation, over the forum’s Rs 1,34,66,000.
Noting an increasing number of medical negligence cases coming before the consumer forums, the court said it hopes this verdict “acts as a deterrent and a reminder to those doctors, hospitals, the nursing homes and other connected establishments who do not take their responsibility seriously”.
Speaking for the bench, Justice Gowda asked the central and the state governments to consider enacting laws wherever needed for effective functioning of private hospitals and nursing homes.”
Citing an earlier apex court judgment holding the right to health a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution’s Article 21, the court said doctors and hospitals are to be dealt with strictly if found “negligent with the patients who come to them pawning all their money with the hope to live a better life with dignity”.
“The patients irrespective of their social, cultural and economic background are entitled to be treated with dignity which not only forms their fundamental right but also their human right,” Justice Gowda said.
Since the conduct of doctors is already regulated by the Medical Council of India (MCI), the court said: “We hope and trust for impartial and strict scrutiny from the body”.
It also expressed hope that medical professionals and institutions update themselves about any new developments and rare diseases so as to avoid tragedies such as this case where a life could have been saved with a little more awareness and wisdom on the part of doctors and the hospital.
The tragic story of Anuradha started a month after she reached Kolkata in March 1998 for her summer vacation, when in April, some rashes surfaced on her skin. She consulted Dr Mukherjee who advised her rest.
However, rashes resurfaced again in early May with far greater intensity. Dr Mukherjee prescribed her two doses of Depo-Medrol injection every day.
As her condition did not improve, she was admitted to AMRI and subsequently she was shifted to Mumbai’s Breach Candy Hospital where she was diagnosed to be suffering from life-threatening disease called toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN). At AMRI, Anuradha was treated by Dr Mukherjee.
TEN, also known as Lyell’s syndrome, is generally caused by a reaction to drugs and leads to the top layer of skin detaching from the lower layer all over the body. It is a more severe form of Stevens-Johnson syndrome.
Anuradha succumbed to her ailment on May 28, 1998. [IANS]
The Supreme Court in 2009 had found AMRI and the doctors guilty of negligence and the case was referred to the NCDRC for the sole purpose of determining quantum of compensation. The NCDRC earlier found no negligence by doctors or AMRI and had dismissed the case in 2006, forcing Dr Saha to approach the apex court.
This is by far the highest compensation in a medical negligence case. Previously, the Supreme Court, in May 2009, had awarded the highest ever compensation of Rs 1 crore to a wheelchair-bound Infosys engineer Prashant S Dhananka for medical negligence in a surgery by Hyderabad’s Nizam Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMS), which damaged his spinal chord.
Dr Kunal Saha, who had claimed a compensation of more than Rs 78 crore for his wife’s “wrongful death”, has reportedly pledged to donate the entire amount to People for Better Treatment (PBT), a voluntary group set up by him in Kolkata to fight against medical negligence and corruption in medical field.
Update: According to Dr Kunal Saha, “Anuradha died basically for receiving 80 mg Depomedrol BID continuously for almost one week. So, this was a pure and simple case of poisoning a patient with astronomical amount of a dangerous long-acting corticosteroid by the main culprit physician, Dr Sukumar Mukherjee.”
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