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Can a doctor or consultant be held liable for the negligence of his junior?

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eMediNexus    11 January 2023

Doctors have the duty to satisfy themselves that the persons to whom a task is given are qualified to carry out the same and/or have the required experience, knowledge and skill to discharge the duties delegated to them.

 

Improper delegation would amount to negligence. In case of proper delegation, the senior doctor would be held liable for the negligence of the junior staff.

 

The legal duty of care is owned by all categories of healthcare, such as doctors, nurses, etc. A junior doctor, therefore, owes the same duty of care to his patients as a senior doctor.

 

If a junior doctor is working independently and is competent for a particular job, the senior doctor may not be held liable, e.g., running of an OPD independently by the junior doctor. The hospital may still be liable in such as case. Therefore, a doctor would be considered negligent only in a case where he delegates the responsibility to his junior while being aware that the junior is 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 was reiterated and upheld in the matter titled “Malay Kumar Ganguly vs Sukumar Mukherjee & Ors. AIR 2010 SC 1162.”

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