Supreme Court awards compensation of Rs. 1 crore for medical negligence

The honourable apex court has awarded exemplary damages of Rs. 1 crore to the victim – a software engineer who suffered permanent disability (partial paralysis and other disabilities) due to medical negligence at a government hospital in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The High Court of Andhra Pradesh had awarded compensation of Rs. 15 Lakhs. However, it was increased from Rs. 15 lakhs to Rs. 1 crore by the Supreme Court.

The victim, Prashant S Dhananka, 39, who spiritedly argued his case from a wheelchair he has been confined to since the operation 19 years ago, had sought a compensation of Rs 7 crore. The court, however, settled for an almost seven-fold increase in the Rs 15 lakh amount awarded by the Andhra Pradesh high court.

Though it is a pittance compared to the 5 million pounds (a little over Rs 37 crore) awarded to British TV actress Leslie Ash in a similar case last year, this Supreme Court ruling could be a trendsetter for judicial re-evaluation of compensation for victims of medical negligence.

Dhananka, a senior manager with Infosys earning Rs 1.5 lakh a month and residing in Bangalore, gave vivid details of the gross negligence he suffered at Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMS), Hyderabad, and demonstrated the inadequacy of the compensation awarded by the high court. NIMS, a semi-government set up, is rated as one of the premier hospitals in the country.

While increasing the compensation to Rs 1 crore, the bench comprising Justices B N Agrawal, H S Bedi and G S Singhvi showed both its disgust at blatant attempts by NIMS to wriggle out of its responsibility for the victim’s condition and acknowledged the need to provide for the huge medical expenses that Dhananka has had to incur every month since 1990. 

Dhananka’s nightmarish experience is similar to the case of national table tennis player V Chandrasekhar, who fought a legal battle against Apollo Hospital, Chennai, for over a decade before being awarded Rs 19 lakh by the Supreme Court in February 1995 — the highest compensation in a medical negligence case in India before the Dhananka verdict. Chandrasekhar too had been left partially paralyzed due to medical negligence.

For Dhananka, it all began on September 19, 1990, when he got himself examined at NIMS for frequently recurring fever. Dhananka was studying mechanical engineering at the time. The hospital diagnosed a benign tumour in the chest. He underwent thoracotomy for removal of the tumour but due to negligence during the operation, his spinal chord was damaged. He developed paralysis in the lower part of his body and since then has been confined to a wheelchair. The apex court agreed with Dhananka’s plea that his bright future was cut short due to the mistake of doctors.

While it took Dhananka 19 years to get justice, British actress Leslie Ash got her compensation in just four years. She had brought the claim after contracting an MSSA (methicillin-sensitive staphylococcus aureus) infection while being treated by the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London for two cracked ribs in April 2004. As a result of the infection, she suffered severe mobility problems and even after four years walked with the aid of a stick.

Dr P V Satyanarayana, who had performed the operation was then a professor of cardiac surgery at NIMS. He took voluntary retirement in 1996 and now works for a corporate hospital in Vizag.

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