CASE BRIEF Spring Meadows Hospital and Anr v. Harjol Ahluwalia

Spring Meadows Hospital and Anr v. Harjol Ahluwalia and Anr.

FACTS OF THE CASE

A kid was admitted to a hospital where, after assessment by a Senior Consultant Paediatrician and advice from other specialists, the patient was discharged. Following a diagnostic, it was discovered that the patient had typhoid fever, for which appropriate medications were administered. The nurse in the said hospital requested that the patient’s father obtain the injection “Inj Lariago,” which the nurse then administered to the minor patient. The patient collapsed on his mother’s lap as soon as he was injected. Due to this unfortunate turn of events, a doctor attended the patient and informed the parents that the youngster had experienced a cardiac arrest, after which the doctor attempted to restart the heartbeat by physically pumping the chest. The patient was then attended to by another doctor, who began the manual respiration treatment. The patient was placed on a manual ventilator, but the child’s health did not improve. On January 3, 1994, he was transferred to another hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU), where he was diagnosed as critical and told that he could only survive in a vegetative condition since irreversible brain damage had occurred and there was no chance of recovery of the same. On the 24th of January 1994, when the kid was released from the referred hospital, one of the first hospital’s doctors and the same hospital’s Chief Administrator offered to admit the child and maybe try to recover him. The complaint claimed that the infant suffered irreparable harm as a result of the hospital’s carelessness and insufficiency, and that the youngster could only survive in a vegetative condition, and sought compensation of INR 28 lakhs.

ISSUES RAISED

  1. Can the parents of a minor child who was admitted to the hospital for treatment be considered consumers for the purposes of claiming compensation under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act?
  • Is the Commission, under the Act, authorised to compensate the parents for mental anguish, given the Commission’s authority under Section 14 of the Act?
  • Even though the child and the child’s parents meet the description of “consumer” under Section 2(1)(d) of the Act, may compensation be awarded to both consumers or can compensation be awarded only to the recipient of the services rendered, which in this case would be child who was admitted into the hospital?

RULES APPLIED

  1. Section 12(1)(a) in the Consumer Protection Act, 1986

A complaint in relation to any goods sold or delivered or agreed to be sold or delivered or any service provided or agreed to be provided may be filed with a District Forum by—

  • the consumer to whom such goods are sold or delivered or agreed to be sold or delivered or such service provided or agreed to be provided;
  • Section 2(1)(d) in the Consumer Protection Act, 1986

“consumer” means any person who, —

(ii) [hires or avails of] any services for a consideration which has been paid or promised or partly paid and partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment and includes any beneficiary of such services other than the person who [hires or avails of] the services for consideration paid or promised, or partly paid and partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment, when such services are availed of with the approval of the first mentioned person [but does not include a person who avails of such services for any commercial purpose];

ANALYSIS OF THE CASE

Negligence will usually be found in cases involving serious medical errors. The use of incorrect medications or gas during anaesthesia will almost always result in the imposition of culpability, and in some cases, the principle of Res ipsa loquitur may be used. Because the definition clause is broad enough to include not only the person who hires the services, but also the beneficiary of those services who is not the person who hires the services, the inevitable conclusion is that both the child’s parents and the child would be consumers under Section 2(1)(d)(ii) of the Act. Because the Commission has the authority to give compensation for any loss or harm experienced by the consumer as a result of the negligence of the person whose services were engaged, the Commission could award compensation to the minor child who has been injured rather than the parents. To put it another way, the learned counsel argued that clause (d) of Section 14 should not be construed as allowing the Commission to compensate both the minor child and his parents. The National Consumer Disputes Redress Commission ruled that because the resident doctor and nurse were employees of the appellant hospital, the latter was liable and granted compensation to the child of Rs.12.51 lakh and the parents of Rs.5 lakh for acute mental anguish. The appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court with costs of Rs. 5,000.

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