New Delhi, Oct. 25: The Rs 11 crore-plus compensation awarded in the Anuradha Saha case has thrown up a question whether the Supreme Court could have imposed a fine as well on the hospital and the doctors to ensure deeper deterrence.
There are no provisions for fines in civil cases, according to lawyers, although the Supreme Court is empowered by the Constitution to pass any order.
Fines — and jail terms — can be imposed only in criminal trials, the lawyers said, adding that no compensation is awarded in criminal cases although the court may order a part of the fine to be given to the victims.
“Since this is a civil litigation, the question of imposing a fine does not arise,” said senior counsel and former Patna High Court judge, Nagendra Rai. “But you can consider the compensation as a fine (of sorts),” he added.
The Supreme Court yesterday awarded Saha’s husband Kunal a compensation of Rs 6.08 crore which, after addition of the accumulated interest stipulated by the court, comes to Rs 11.55 crore. AMRI Hospitals has to pay the bulk of the compensation — a record sum for medical negligence cases in India.
Although, theoretically, the Constitution empowers the court to pass any order, the Supreme Court had clearly marked out its brief in the compensation case.
“It is pertinent to mention that we are not inclined to determine the liability of the doctors in causing the death of the claimant’s wife since the same has already been done by the court (in 2009). We will confine ourselves to determine the extent to which the appellant-doctors and the hospital are liable to pay compensation awarded to the claimant for their acts of negligence in giving treatment,” Justices Chandramauli Kr Prasad and V. Gopala Gowda said in the judgment.
Senior lawyer R.K. Kapoor said that even though India’s civil law, which follows the English Law of Torts, has no provision for fines, the Supreme Court is empowered under Article 142 to pass any judgment or order.
However, it has so far not imposed a fine in any civil case, he said, because the apex court examines every issue on the basis of the statute. “If a statute does not prescribe any fine or penalty in a civil matter, why should the court impose a fine in addition to compensation?” Kapoor said.
Kapoor explained that in criminal matters, the doctrine of “mens rea” implies a guilty intention on the part of the accused. Since no such intent is implied in a civil case, courts award just compensation and no penalties.
Kapoor said that if a civil litigant wants a fine to be imposed apart from the compensation, they must fight a criminal negligence case too.
The criminal case relating to Anuradha’s death had ended in the Supreme Court in 2009.
In the criminal case relating to Anuradha’s death, the high court and the apex court had acquitted all the accused — Dr Sukumar Mukherjee, Dr Baidyanath Halder and the late Abani Roychowdhury — ruling they had no criminal intent.
The hospital management and a fourth doctor, Balram Prasad, were not among the accused in the criminal case but their names were added to the civil compensation suit when it reached the national consumer forum.
Senior counsel Parmanand Katara, however, said that one might assume that yesterday’s compensation is a sort of fine too, especially as “part of the amount is to be recovered from the doctors (Dr Mukherjee, Dr Halder and Dr Prasad) responsible for such negligence”.
Kapoor said Thursday’s apex court judgment would set an example and send a warning to hospitals and doctors.
“In future, they will be vigilant. This is a very far-reaching judgment that will have an impact on the improvement of medical services and doctors’ sense of responsibility towards patients,” he said.
“But the lower courts and the high courts too should take the cue and award such compensation. Otherwise, litigants will have to travel all the way to the apex court to seek justice.”
Asked about the record compensation amount, Rai said courts consider many factors while fixing damages, one being the claimant’s country of residence. Kunal lives in America.
“In civil matters, the rate of compensation is always higher if the victim lives in some other country, as the courts (go by) the standard of living in that country,” Rai said.