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Case Analysis : Jacob Mathew vs. State of Punjab & Anr. AIR 2005 SC 3180


Authored By : Anjali Chaudhary


Abstract:

This article critically analysis the case of Jacob Mathew Verses State of Punjab & Anr.[1] which is a case dealing with Medical Negligence. The case deals with a patient who was already suffering from cancer and the family was suggested to keep the patient in solitude and provide him with proper nursing but the children of the patient being at a political position got him a reservation in a private ward at the hospital, therefore, continuing his treatment there.

Keywords:

Medical negligence; Bolams law; Common intention


Case no. -

Appeal (crl.) 144-145 of 2004


Petitioner:-

Jacob Mathew


Respondent:-

State of Punjab & Anr.


Bench of the case:-

CJI R.C. LAHOTI,G.P. MATHUR & P.K.BALASUBRAMANYAN


Date of Judgement:

05/08/2005

Facts of the Case:

A patient with the name Jiwan Lal had been admitted to a Hospital named CMC in their private ward. On February-22-1995, at night, around 22 hours, the patient started getting critical when he started facing a DIFFICULTY in breathing and it kept getting worse. After seeing his condition, Vijay Sharma, who was his elder son got anxious and he called the doctor and a nurse to observe his father’s condition. His uneasiness had to last for 20-25 minutes as no doctor showed up even after being told that the patient was critical and getting worse. Fortunately, Dr. Alan Joseph and Dr. Jacob Mathew showed up to his private ward to see his misery and as soon as they say him , they attached oxygen supply to his mouth to restrain further damage which had anyhow been done. Eventually, it was found out that the particular oxygen cylinder was empty. Vijay Sharma reported this to the authorities and went around the hospital, to the other rooms in order to look for a spare cylinder. As luck would have it, he found a cylinder in the adjoining room and this whole process lead them to waste around 5-10 minutes. Amidst this, the doctor had confirmed the patient to be dead.

The Petitioner then filed a First Information Report under Section 304A read with Section 34 of the IPC.

Concerned Provisions of Law:-

1. Section 304A of IPC- Causing death by negligence.

2. Section 34 of IPC- Common intention for criminal activity, all people included to be held liable

Issues:-

1. Whether the wrongful act of Negligence finds its place in Civil law or Criminal law?

2. Whether there is a measure to the extent of negligence trailed by the doctor to determine his liability?

Arguments presented by the Prosecution:-

It does not fall under the professional capacity of a doctor to act with negligence. The duty of a doctor is to take care of a patient and try in his best capability to heal the patient. A doctor must be aware of the fact that one trivial mistake can cost a life of a patient as well as it has negative implications on the career of that doctor. The systems that follow the legal maxim of Res Ispa Loquitor (The Truth speaks for itself) does not have a universal application and it has to be used with utmost caution especially in the cases of Medical Negligence or Simple Negligence. A medical practitioner is the one who has the life of a critical patient in his hands and he is supposed it save it in his best capacity. Only the instances that are not in the hands of the doctor could be termed as accidents.

Judgement:-

The judges in this case opined that after checking back and meticulously ascertaining the facts as well as the arguments raised by the petitioner, do not make a case of criminal negligence in the name of accused in the case. It is not squarely a case of medical Negligence but the complications arose because of the non-availability of the oxygen cylinder which had nothing to do with the doctor’s part of appropriate care. The hospital failed at keeping spare supply of the important commodities due to which the shortage happened and the deceased could not be provided with the support. The hospital is in a position to be held liable under civil law but the accused could not be put the blame on and he could not be made the subject to the proceedings under section 304-A of the Indian Penal code as well as if Bolam’s test is considered. Therefore, the appeal lies quashed and the liability of the accused under section 304-A is annulled.

(Bolam’s Test: A test which is used to determine if the duty of Negligence has been breached by a medical Practitioner.)


Footnotes :

[1] AIR 2005 SC 3180

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