Kerala HC: Doctor Cannot be Held Negligent if Treatment or Surgery Goes Wrong


The Hindu Bureau    18 February 2023

The Kerala High Court ruled that unless the prosecution can prove willful and gross negligence on the part of the doctor, section 304A of the Indian Criminal Code cannot be used to hold a doctor liable for a patients death if the patient did not respond to a therapy or an operation failed.


The statement was made recently by Justice Kauser Edappagath, who overturned the conviction and sentence given to three physicians and three nurses by the Kollam Additional Sessions Court in a case involving the death of a patient.


Although doctors are seen as an equivalent to deities, this is a myth. The court noted that the doctors were volunteers who took a chance on working with the most complicated, fragile, and intricate human body, and there is an inherent risk with any surgical procedure or medical intervention. Hence, there is a chance that the process will not go as planned. When something goes wrong, the doctor is not always to blame. Complications by themselves do not indicate negligence.


While determining the bounds of liability in cases of medical negligence, the judicial forums must carefully strike a balance between the autonomy of a doctor to make decisions and the rights of a patient to be treated fairly. The court observed that trial courts frequently disregarded these guidelines when handling criminal cases involving medical malpractice.

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