Medical negligence and doctors’ liability
It is estimated that 98,000 people die every year in the United States because of mistakes committed by medical professionals. One can well imagine the figures in India. However, the law does not aim to punish all acts of a doctor that caused injury to a patient. It is concerned only with negligent acts. Medical negligence arises from an act or omission by a medical practitioner, which no reasonably competent and careful practitioner would have committed. What is expected of a medical practitioner is ‘reasonably skilful behaviour’ adopting the ‘ordinary skills’ and practices of the profession with ‘ordinary care’. There is, however, room for ambiguity, and judicial interpretation as what is ‘reasonable’ and ‘ordinary’ is a question of fact. Essentially, doctors are generally bound to exercise an ordinary degree of care and not the highest possible degree of care. If a medical practitioner has taken reasonable care, then he cannot be held liable. A mere difference in opinion is not a ground for fastening liability on doctor.
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