Mrs. Shantha vs. State Of Andhra Pradesh and Ors

1999 ACJ 454; AIR 1998 AP 51; 1997 (4) ALT 357
Download Judgment: English
Country: India
Region: Asia
Year: 1997
Court: High Court - Andhra Pradesh
Health Topics: Medical malpractice, Poverty
Human Rights: Right to health, Right to life
Tags: Inadequate treatment, Inappropriate treatment, Indigent, Low income, Negligence, Poor, Underprivileged

Mrs. Shantha, the Petitioner, was admitted to the Government Maternity Hospital for a caesarian section. She was affected sterilization after the caesarian section. On leaving the hospital after the operation, she felt abdominal discomfort leading to very severe pain. Following medical examination, it was discovered that surgical equipment had been left inside the Petitioner’s abdomen during the caesarian operation. She was again operated upon and asked to undergo an additional post recovery surgery.

The Petitioner filed this writ petition in the Andhra Pradesh High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution (original writ jurisdiction of the High Court). The Court was asked to decide on issues regarding offences against the Petitioner’s body while “operating for the delivery of a child” and compensation for the “injuries and sufferings caused to her.” Respondent No. 2, the Government maternity hospital where the caesarian section was performed, and Respondent No. 3, the physician who performed the surgery, denied all allegations made by the Petitioner in full.

On the issue of responsibility, the Court found Respondents No. 2 and 3 responsible for negligent treatment. It held that both Respondents had violated the Petitioner’s right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The Court held that the right to life included the right to receive “proper and complete medical attention from the medical practitioner,” whether the practitioner was working in a Government hospital or a private practice.

As to whether the Petitioner was entitled to compensatory relief, the Court held that it was no longer the rule that damages could be awarded only as a tort remedy. Relying on Nilabati Behra v. State of Orissa, ((1993) 2 SCR 581), the Court held that damages could be awarded for the violation of fundamental rights and directed the State to compensate the Petitioner. It held that the State was entitled to recover the amount of damages from Respondent No. 2. The Court further held that the Petitioner had an additional remedy in private law.

“The cherished right of life as in Article 21 of the Constitution of India extends to receiving proper and complete medical attention from medical practitioner, whether working in a Government Hospital or a private practitioner.” Para. 15.
“It is well settled that apart from the punishment to the wrongdoer for the resulting offences and recovery of damages under private law by the ordinary process, in case of any deprivation of life or damage thereto, damages are not awarded only for the tort. Damages are granted in such cases for the contravention of fundamental right and remedy in public law in this behalf is recognised by the courts in our Country.” Para. 21.