NEW DELHI: Ordering a 36-fold increase in compensation, the Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Tamil Nadu government and a state-owned hospital at Egmore in Chennai to pay Rs 1.80 crore to the parents of a child who had lost her eyesight within a year of birth 18 years ago due to the negligence of doctors.
The child was born 10 weeks prematurely to V Krishnakumar and his wife in August 1996 at the government hospital for women and children. But the neonatal expert and the paediatrician at the hospital never warned the parents that all babies born prematurely were prone to retinopathy of prematurity (RoP) and that if early preventive measures were not taken, it could result in blindness.
Within a year of birth, the parents consulted many paediatricians in Chennai, Mumbai and Madurai who said that because non-preventive medical measures were not taken, the child was on the verge of losing her eyesight as RoP stage-V, the final stage before blindness, had set in.
The parents panicked and were advised to visit the US for surgery. In October 1997, the child underwent four eye surgeries within a span of two months. But the light in her eyes could not be restored, which had gone out because of medical negligence at the government hospital at the time of her birth.
Krishnakumar filed a case under Consumer Protection Act in February 1998 before National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission in New Delhi seeking Rs 20 lakh towards airfare, medical expenses and stay in the US, Rs 30 lakh towards future treatment and Rs 50 lakh for pain, loss and mental agony.
Though a medical team from All India Institute of Medical Sciences confirmed negligence on part of the hospital and the two doctors, the national commission awarded just Rs 5 lakh as compensation. Krishnakumar appealed against the commission's award in the Supreme Court through advocate Gautam Narayan.
Appearing for Krishnakumar, advocate Nikhil Nayyar argued that the commission failed to take into account the actual expenses incurred by the parents for the treatment of the baby girl, who is now 18 years old. Nayyar also said the award failed to consider the money required for future treatment and compensation for the prolonged period of mental agony of the child and her parents.
Accepting Nayyar's arguments, a bench of Justices J S Khehar and S A Bobde ordered the state and other respondents to pay Rs 1.38 crore as compensation and Rs 42 lakh as reimbursement of medical expenses, taking the total award to Rs 1.80 crore.