New Delhi, Oct. 24: The Supreme Court today awarded a compensation of Rs 6.08 crore for the death of Anuradha Saha because of medical negligence, taking by far the most aggressive stride towards holding the health care establishment accountable.
The compensation, which crosses Rs 11 crore if a simple interest of Rs 5.47 crore is also taken into account, is the largest in the medical history of the country.
Anuradha Saha, an Ohio-based child psychologist who was vacationing in Calcutta with her husband Kunal, died in 1998 after being wrongly diagnosed for an allergic reaction and administered an ill-suited steroid.
The amount is huge by Indian standards — the previous record for medical negligence was Rs 1 crore — and could set a defining precedent in a country where life has not been valued much. In 2011, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission had awarded only Rs 1.7 crore, from which a fifth was deducted because one doctor had died and the forum concluded that Kunal had interfered with the treatment — a ruling the Supreme Court threw out today.
Husband of Anuradha Saha
The national consumer commission had felt that the interference of Kunal Saha, a doctor, also contributed to
the death of his wife. The commission had deducted 10 per cent from the total compensation it had awarded
The Supreme Court had earlier “deterred the high court (in Calcutta) from making irresponsible accusations against Dr Saha who has suffered not only due to the loss of his wife but also because of his long-drawn battle for justice. Unfortunately, the national commission made the same mistake”
We (the Supreme Court) conclude that the national commission erred in holding that the claimant had contributed to the negligence
We set aside the finding of the national commission and re-emphasise the finding of this court that (Dr Saha) did not contribute to the negligence
Status now: Conducts AIDS research, teaches and practises in Ohio
The compensation announced today is not the highest across the board in the country (Rs 15 crore was awarded for an accident death in 2002). India still lags the West in medical awards.
But the compensation judgment, delivered by Justices Chandramauli Kr Prasad and V. Gopala Gowda, in the Anuradha Saha case is a landmark because of several legal and human factors.
The hospital, AMRI Hospitals in Dhakuria which shut down after a devastating fire in 2011, has been asked to pay as much as Rs 5.83 crore or almost 96 per cent of the total amount. The court made it unequivocally clear that a hospital was responsible for the conduct of visiting as well as empanelled doctors. AMRI Hospitals has to pay the compensation within four weeks.
The compensations clamped on the three doctors (the fourth died last year) were reduced from those slapped by the consumer forum. The court explained the death was caused by negligence, not rash action.
But the court did not spare the doctors withering criticism. Dr Sukumar Mukherjee, described by the court as “renowned and revered”, came under heavy fire.
The court explained in detail how it had calculated the income Anuradha would have earned had she not died — the most contentious part of the compensation case. At one point, an economist deposed over video from the US on the presumptive income.
The court said the consumer forum should have awarded interest as the litigation went on for 15 years. The court set an interest rate of 6 per cent per year from the date of filing the complaint with the forum. Assuming that the court meant simple interest, the amount on this count alone works out to Rs 5.47 crore since 1998.
The judges accepted that Kunal had rightly pointed out that the value of the Indian currency had gone down while the legal proceedings were going on. The court held the value of the Indian currency to be Rs 55 per dollar, probably because the hearing had ended in April, since when the rupee has fallen.
The court spoke of regulatory mechanisms that are backed by legislation. “The central and the state governments may consider enacting laws, wherever there is absence of one, for effective functioning of the private hospitals and nursing homes,” the court said.
The court referred to the larger objective behind the compensation, serving a reminder on the medical establishment at a time of skyrocketing fees and numerous complaints of negligence. “The doctors, hospitals, the nursing homes and other connected establishments are to be dealt with strictly if they are found to be negligent with the patients who come to them pawning all their money with the hope to live a better life with dignity,” the court said.
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, the court added. “We, therefore, hope and trust that this decision acts as a deterrent and a reminder to those doctors, hospitals, nursing homes and other connected establishments who do not take their responsibility seriously.”
The 210-page judgment concluded by expressing the hope that “institutions and individuals providing medical services to the public at large would educate and update themselves about any new medical discipline and rare diseases so as to avoid tragedies such as the instant case where a valuable life could have been saved with a little more awareness and wisdom from the part of the doctors and the hospital”.
A poignant — and perhaps most decisive — element was the tenacity with which Kunal, a doctor, fought the case for 15 years. Several rounds of disappointments, including in Calcutta High Court, did not deter him from soldiering on.
“Do not give up hope — justice will come in the end,” Kunal said this evening.
He added: “The historic judgment does three vitally important jobs. One, it should rekindle hope among countless victims of medical negligence.
“Second, it should tell the many honest and caring doctors that it is time to step forward to take up the burden to cleanse the system.
“Finally, and perhaps most important, today’s judgment has uplifted the sagging value of human life in India.”