eMedinewS Editorial

Health Care 1,880 Comments

23rd May, 2010, Sunday

Foreign experts may testify in medical negligence case

Dear Colleague

A story published in The Telegraph on May 18, 2010 had stated that the Supreme Court has for the first time, allowed four US experts to depose before the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) in the Anuradha Saha case of medical negligence filed by Dr Kunal Saha, against AMRI Hospital, which the commission had earlier turned down.

According to this story, the Supreme Court has directed the Commission to accept the opinion of the four experts to determine the compensation amount. The doctors accused of negligence and the hospital must also bear the costs of the deposition by these experts who could be examined and cross–examined through “video–conferencing”. The four experts who may testify are: Dr John Broughton, a professor in psychology at Columbia University, Professor John Burke, a renowned economic expert from Cleveland; New York; Angela Hill, an economic expert from Ohio and Joe Griffith, a legal expert on damages allowed in medical negligence cases.

Subsequent to the publication of this story, on May 19, 2010, the hospital issued a rejoinder published in The Telegraph saying that the report was based on hearsay and not on actual facts. It states that the Supreme Court “dismissed the special leave petition as withdrawn in terms of the prayer made. The SLP having been dismissed as withdrawn a mere liberty has been reserved for Dr Kunal Saha to approach the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) for examining foreign experts through video–conferencing.”

Whether the foreign experts will depose or not yet remains uncertain. But, let’s take a look at the case itself and what implications it has on us, as a medical profession.

Dr Kunal Saha, at the Children’s Hospital and Ohio State University at Columbus, Ohio, began his battle against medical negligence after his wife died in 1998 during a trip to India. He then filed negligence cases, civil and criminal, against three doctors and the AMRI hospital where she was treated before being shifted to the Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai where she died from the Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis syndrome. Anuradha Saha was a child psychologist. He also asked for Rs 78 crores as damages at the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NDCRC) in New Delhi against the hospital.

Since then, this case has moved up from the lowest to the highest court in India. The lower court found Dr. Sukumar Mukherjee and Dr. Baidyanath Halder guilty of ‘negligent and inappropriate treatment’ but Dr. Abani Roychowdhury was acquitted for lack of evidence. Calcutta High Court reversed this decision in March 2004, and said that all three doctors were innocent. The NCDRC also had found no evidence of negligence by the doctors and dismissed the claim.

A civil appeal against this decision was filed in the Supreme Court, which in 2009, upheld the acquittal of three doctors from the charge of criminal negligence causing the death of Anuradha Saha, but it said that Dr Kunal Saha was entitled to seek compensation. It also awarded legal costs of Rs 5 lakh to be paid by the AMRI hospital, AMRI, and Rs 1 lakh to be paid by one of the doctors, Sukumar Mukherjee. The Apex Court had sent back the case to the NCDRC to determine the final amount of compensation. Dr Saha filed a contempt petition when the hospital refused to pay these costs even as directed by the Apex Court.

In this long journey, Dr Saha even challenged the West Bengal Govt. in the Supreme Court.

Does this case herald the way medical negligence cases are going to be decided?
If the foreign experts do testify, this would mark a first, which may well be a precedent.

Dr KK Aggarwal
Padma Shri Awardee and Chief Editor


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