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If a Patient suffers complications during a surgery not contemplated normally, the principle of ‘Res Ipsa Loquitor’ will apply: Kerala High Court

The principle of ‘Res Ipsa Loquitor’ (rule of presumption that a particular act points towards negligence of another) applies in cases of medical negligence. If a patient suffers an complication which was not contemplated in the normal course of treatment/operation/surgery the above said principle will apply. The ration was laid down by the Kerala High Court presided over by J. S.V. Bhatti & J. B.K. Thomas, in the case of M/s. PRS Hospital & Anr. Vs. P. Anil Kumar [ RFA No. 131 of 2020].

The facts of the case are that a 29 year old was undergoing a surgery for removal of kidney stones and after the surgery he lost his sound and became a paraplegic. A suit for medical negligence was filed by the patient in the Sub-Court of Thiruvananthapuram, and the court affirmed that the patient suffered the complication due to medical negligence and awarded a compensation of Rs. 20,40,000/- along with interest and cost of the suit. The Hospital and doctor filed an appeal in the High Court only challenging the contention of Medical Negligence and not challenging the compensation.

The High Court observed that before the surgery the patient was fit and came walking into the hospital 30 minutes after the surgery he suffered these two complications and hence this is a result of medical negligence. The court relied on the landmark judgment of V.Kishan Rao v. Nikhil Super Speciality Hospital & Anr. [(2010) 5 SCC 513]. The Court stated that, “As a patient, when one lies on the operation table, that too under general anesthesia, it is impossible for the patient to comprehend what happens around him. When the patient is under general anesthesia, he is unaware of the processes that are being carried out. Admittedly, the plaintiff was being operated upon under general anesthesia. it was not possible for the plaintiff to specify the nature of acts done or performed on him, that could be depicted as negligent. Plaintiff, as a patient undergoing a procedure, can never claim knowledge of the niceties of the procedure and actual omissions, if any, by the professional, whom he relied upon for treatment.” The court dismissing the appeal stated that, “Defendants failed to prove the cause of the injury sustained by the plaintiff. Even though he deposed that the cardiologist of the Hospital and two other Doctors had seen the plaintiff when the injury occurred, none of them were examined as witnesses or even cited as witnesses. Even the anesthetist who was inside the operation theater throughout was not examined. These are all direct witnesses who were not examined. Even the vague and indirect reference to a possible lack of oxygen supply to the brain and its cause has not been explained by the defendants. They have miserably failed to discharge their onus or explain the cause of the injury.”

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