Doctors cannot be held negligent if treatment or surgery goes wrong: HC

Court sets aside conviction and sentence awarded to three doctors, three nurses by the Kollam Additional Sessions Court in connection with the death of a patient

Published - February 17, 2023 06:29 pm IST - KOCHI

The Kerala High Court has held that a doctor cannot be held negligent, under section 304A of the Indian Penal Code, in the event of the death of a patient, merely because the patient didn’t respond to a treatment or because a surgery failed, unless the prosecution establishes culpable and gross negligent act on the part of the doctor.

Justice Kauser Edappagath made the observation recently while setting aside the conviction and sentence awarded to three doctors and three nurses by the Kollam Additional Sessions Court in a case registered in connection with the death of a patient.


The court observed that though the doctors’ aura of godliness and holiness was a myth, they were volunteers who took the risk of dealing with the most intricate, delicate, and complex machine on earth — the human body. Any surgical procedure or medical intervention on this highly compound machine carries some inherent risk. There is always the chance that the treatment does not go as planned. When things go wrong, it is not always the fault of the doctor. A complication by itself does not constitute negligence. There is a big difference between an adverse or untoward event and negligence. However, there is a growing tendency to accuse the doctor of an adverse or untoward event.

The judicial forums, in the process of fixing parameters of liability in cases of medical negligence, must aim at striking a careful balance between the autonomy of a doctor to make judgments and the rights of a patient to be dealt with fairly. However, while dealing with criminal prosecution for medical negligence, the trial courts often ignored these principles, the court added.

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