Hope is on the people’s side with the Supreme Court again sending out a clear message that hospitals will have to pay for their negligence. A bench has enhanced from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 20 lakh the compensation awarded by the Karnataka State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission to a little girl whose right arm had to be amputated. The story goes back to 2002. The girl, who was two years old at the time, was admitted to Manipal Hospital in Bangalore for treatment of pneumonia. She was administered intravenous fluid, but the needle was inserted into an artery instead of a vein. As a result, blood supply to her forearm was blocked and she developed gangrene. The bench declined to overturn the consumer commission’s finding that it was because of the hospital’s negligence that the girl’s arm had to be amputated.
The girl and her parents spend Rs 80,000 a year just on batteries for her artificial limb, their lawyer told the court. “Although the sufferings, agony and pain which the girl child will carry cannot be compensated in terms of money … in our view, a compensation of Rs 20 lakhs will be just and reasonable,” the bench said. In 2013, the Supreme Court granted damages amounting to Rs 5 crore to NRI doctor Kunal Saha after his wife died of complications from the negligence of AMRI Hospital in Kolkata.
But in many other cases victims of medical negligence have not secured relief, because they lack the knowledge and resources to take on hospitals and because most doctors are reluctant to testify against fellow professionals. In one case in Bangalore, a pregnant woman fell from her labour bed and died. But nothing much happened after that. Victims must draw hope from the court’s verdict, while hospital authorities should put a system of checks in place and be humane. If they make a serious error, they should make amends promptly instead of trying to wear out the victims by prolonging the legal battle.