Supreme Court Judgement On Criminal Medical Negligence

Supreme court

The Supreme Court recently stated in Dr. Jacob Mathew’s case that in order to make a doctor criminally responsible for the death of a patient, it must be established that there was negligence or incompetence on the doctor’s part which went beyond a mere question of compensation on the basis of civil liability. Criminal liability would arise only if the doctor did something in disregard of the life and safety of the patient. Certain directions have also been given in the case.

Negligence, in simple terms, is the failure to take due care and caution. It is a breach of a duty caused by the omission to do something which a reasonable person – guided by those considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs – should have done. It may also be doing something, which a prudent and reasonable person would not have done.

The essential components of negligence are: ‘duty’, ‘breach’ and ‘resulting damage’. These definitions are rather relative and can change with the circumstances. When trying to drag a person away from the clutches of an attacking animal, one cannot ask whether this would cause damage to the person’s limbs. Doctors can also be faced with similar contingencies. On finding an accident victim in a dangerous condition, a doctor may have to attempt a crude form of emergency surgery to try and save the person’s life. No negligence is involved in such cases.

Under the civil law, victims of negligence can get relief in the form of compensation from a civil court or the consumer forum. Here, the applicant only needs to prove that an act took place that was wanting in due care and caution, and the victim consequently suffered damage. There is a difference between civil and criminal negligence. However, in certain circumstances, the same negligent act may also be seen as criminal if it constitutes an offense under any law of the land.

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