Friday, May 15, 2009

Highest compensation in India in a medical malpractice case

The figure is Rs. 1 crore (approximately US $ 200,000); the victim was asking for seven times this figure. Here's the report. I don't know much about the kinds of arguments / guidelines the Supremes would use for fixing the damage awards, but Rs. 1 crore in this case appears too low. But we live in a land where victims of railway accidents receive a small fraction -- just a few percent -- of this figure.

Prashanth was an engineering student, specialising in software, when he was admitted to the hospital in September 1990 with unexplained fever.

After diagnosing a benign tumour, institute doctors advised surgery saying the growth could put pressure on the patient’s respiratory, cardiovascular or neurological systems, or turn malignant some day. Following surgery, Prashanth developed paraplegia — paralysis of the legs and the lower portion of the body.

Six months after his discharge, his father, a Bhel employee, wrote to the institute in November 1991, alleging negligence. In 1993, Prashanth moved the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and sought about Rs 5 crore in damages.

The commission held the institute negligent since it had not included a neurosurgeon in the surgery team or taken the opinion of sister institutes. It awarded Rs 15.5 lakh in compensation.

The institute appealed against the verdict and the patient too challenged the compensation as inadequate, raising the demand to Rs 7 crore. The case reached the Supreme Court in 1999.

The court agreed that Prashanth — now an Infosys employee — had lost out on future income, had had a brilliant career cut short and faced huge medical bills for life, and that his whole family had paid “an enormous price, physical, financial and emotional”. Still, it said, the claim of Rs 7 crore was exaggerated and unreasonable.

The timeline is worth repeating: the malpractice happened in 1990. The case reached the Supremes in 1999. Final verdict arrives in 2009.