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Can a doctor or consultant be held liable for the negligence of his junior where he delegates his responsibility to his junior?
Doctors have a duty to satisfy themselves that the persons to whom the task is delegated are qualified and/or have the appropriate experience, knowledge and skill to discharge the duties which have been delegated to them.
Improper delegation would amount to negligence. In case of proper delegation, the senior doctor would be vicariously held liable for the negligence of the junior staff during this delegation.
At the same time, the legal duty of care is owned by all categories of healthcare like doctors, nurses, etc. Thus, the junior doctor owes the same duty of care to his patients as his senior doctor.
In case the junior doctor is working independently and is competent for that job the senior doctor may not be held liable e.g. running of an OPD separately by the junior doctor. In such a case, the hospital may still be liable. Thus, the doctor would be negligent only in a case where he delegates the responsibility to his junior with the knowledge that the junior was incapable of performing his duties properly.
In the matter titled as “Spring Meadows Hospital v. Harjol Ahluwalia, [(1998) 4 SCC 39”, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has held that:
“Gross medical mistake will always result in a finding of negligence. Use of wrong drug or wrong gas during the course of anaesthetic will frequently lead to the imposition of liability and in some situations even the principle of Res ipsa loquitur can be applied. Even delegation of responsibility to another may amount to negligence in certain circumstances. A consultant could be negligent where he delegates the responsibility to his junior with the knowledge that the junior was incapable of performing of his duties properly.”
The law laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the matter titled as Spring Meadows Hospital v. Harjol Ahluwalia has been reiterated and upheld in the matter titled as Malay Kumar Ganguly vs Sukumar Mukherjee & Ors. AIR 2010 SC 1162.