Medical negligence case ends in win for onco-surgeon

26 April, 2016

Mumbai: In a victory for eminent onco-surgeon Dr P B Desai, the Supreme Court upheld a decision of the Bombay high court in his favour, putting an end to a chequered legal battle spanning three decades over alleged medical negligence. 

The SC on Tuesday dismissed a plea to appeal filed by former IAS officer P C Singhi and confirmed the HC findings that Dr Desai was not responsible for suffering or the resultant death of Singhi's wife as she was never admitted to Bombay Hospital in 1987 as his patient. 

The HC bench headed by Justice Abhay Oka had in October 2014 set aside a 2011 order of a single judge directing Dr Desai to pay a compensation of Rs 15 lakh for causing mental agony to a cancer patient, Leela Singhi, in 1987. The division bench held that the December 1987 surgery on Singhi was also performed by another doctor, A K Mukherjea, at Bombay Hospital. Dr Desai has maintained that Dr Mukherjea was her doctor from admission till discharge, while Singhi's case was that an unwritten hospital policy at the time allowed patients to be admitted only under heads of departments. 

Singhi, now almost 90, house-bound, his vision failing on learning of the SC decision, said he felt "disheartened''. "It was as if my last 30 years were a waste,'' he added. Dr Desai, almost in his mid-80s, told TOI from Delhi, "The 28-year fight for justice was stressful but worthwhile. I had decided that even if I lost the last shot of my back, I would fight to let truth prevail and I feel proud that Satyameva Jayate has not lost its meaning.'' 

The legal battle between Singhi and Dr Desai, who is a Padma Bhushan awardee, had set few records, being the first case where a witness deposed via video-conferencing from the US. 

Singhi sued Dr Desai in the HC in 1989 for damages for breach of contract and negligence. In 2011, an HC single judge bench of Justice Roshan Dalvi held Dr Desai contractually liable to Singhi in a doctor-patient relationship; Singhi was admitted to the hospital when Dr Desai headed its oncology department. Justice Dalvi had also ordered him to foot the patient's medical and nursing bills of Rs 80,000—with 16% interest per annum—and Rs 1 lakh as litigation cost. After a year-long suffering post-discharge, Leela died in Rajasthan, her hometown, where her husband was a senior bureaucrat. But Justice Dalvi held that Dr Desai was not medically negligent, which Singhi did not challenge. 


The HC bench had, however, directed Dr Desai to give Rs 1 lakh as litigation cost to Singhi. 


Meanwhile, the SC had earlier in 2013 also given Dr Desai a clean chit in a criminal prosecution for negligence. The SC had said Dr Desai was "contractually bound'' but his "negligence amounts to actionable wrong in tort, it does not transcend into the criminal liability''.