The Supreme Court of India (SC) yesterday admitted an appeal filed by PBT president, Dr. Kunal Saha, seeking to enhance the Rs. 1.7 crore compensation for the wrongful death of his wife, Anuradha Saha, awarded last year by the National Consumer Forum (NCDRC). Anuradha, US-based child psychologist, died when she was only 36 as a result of gross medical negligence during a social visit to India in 1998. After a long and arduous legal battle, Supreme Court held four eminent Kolkata doctors (Sukumar Mukherjee, Baidyanath Halder, late Abani Roychowdhury and Balaram Prasad) and AMRI hospital in Kolkata guilty for causing Anuradha’s death in a historic judgment on August 7, 2009. Ironically, NCDRC had earlier acquitted all accused doctors and AMRI hospital in 2006 as they found no evidence of medical negligence. The Apex Court remitted the case back to NCDRC in 2009 only to determine the quantum of compensation to be paid by the convicted doctors and AMRI hospital within a “period of 6 months”. Almost two and half years later, NCDRC eventually quantified the compensation of Rs. 1.7 crore for Anuradha’s wrongful death.
While this was the highest compensation in Indian medico-legal history invoving “medical negligence”, the compensation awarded by NCDRC was less than 2% of the total claim of Rs. 97 crore (plus interest) made by Anuradha’s husband. NCDRC also deducted 25% from the overall compensation because one of the four convicted doctors had passed away while the case was still pending before the National Commission. Another 10% was deducted from the total compensation for “contributory negligence”, as in view of NCDRC, Anuradha’s husband, Dr. Saha, also contributed to the negligence even though the Apex Court had categorically held only the four Kolkata doctors and AMRI hospital responsible for Anuradha’s death. Furthermore, NCDRC also did not even award a single rupee as interest in this more than 13-year old case for the first time in Indian medico-legal history. Dr. Saha has challenged these inherent flaws in his appeal before the Supreme Court seeking significant enhancement of the compensation. Interestingly, the guilty doctors and AMRI hospital have also filed appeals before the Apex Court seeking to reduce the amount of compensation awarded by NCDRC. They also sought a stay on the NCDRC order so that they did not have to pay any compensation for now. The Supreme Court admitted all appeals and clubbed them together and directed yesterday to list these appeals together for “final disposal” before the Apex Court closes for summer vacation on May 12, 2012. However, Supreme Court refused to grant any stay of the NCDRC order underscoring that the convicted doctors/AMRI hospital must pay the compensation calculated by NCDRC (see below the SC Order and report in The Telegraph). Dr. Saha has already filed a separate application before NCDRC seeking imprisonment of the convicted doctors for non-payment of the compensation as allowed under section 27 of Consumer Protection Act, 1985. The final compensation award for Anuradha’s wrongful death may have far-reaching and important implications for all pending and future cases for “medical negligence” against the errant doctors and reckless hospitals.