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Court holds surgeon not negligent, but hospital negligent for the post-surgery ‘mischief’ committed by its staff

June 06, 2024

Can a doctor be held negligent for mistakes or wrongdoings of the hospital staff where the doctor is working / consulting? The following case answers this pressing question.

Irrefutable Facts

The patient consulted urologist with a complaint of retention of urine and was admitted to the hospital. After investigations and cystoscopy, the urologist diagnosed an enlarged prostrate for which a Transurethral Resection of Prostate (TURP) was advised.

About 2 weeks later, TURP under spinal anaesthesia was successfully performed by the urologist. Post-surgery, the urologist advised hospital’s ward staff to apply hot water bag to the patient, which was done by the ward boy near patient’s left leg.

After a few hours, the patient suffered burn injury and developed blisters on the left ankle. After discharge from the hospital, the patient consulted various doctors for the treatment of the blisters.

He sued the urologist and hospital, alleging that although the doctor advised the nurse to apply hot water bag, she delegated the job to an incompetent ward boy. As a result of long contact of hot water bag on the leg, blisters were developed leading to complications.

Doctor’s Plea

The urologist denied any role in the unfortunate mishap.

The hospital, in its defence, stated that development of blisters after application of a hot water bag was purely accidental and a common incident post-surgery. Moreover, the blisters were treated with aspiration and dressing with antibiotics.

Court’s Observations

The court observed that the surgery performed on the patient was successful. The court further observed that the “unfortunate incident occurred” post-operatively when the patient needed hot water compression and “the direction of urologist was not properly complied with” by the hospital staff.

Hence, the court did not hold the urologist negligent, but held the hospital liable for negligence of its staff.

Prevention Is Better Than Cure

  1. Doctors and hospitals both could be held liable for injury or harm caused to the patient. In some cases, only the doctor or the hospital is held negligent whereas, in others, both could be jointly held liable. It depends on the facts and circumstances of each case. Hospitals generally are held liable even for the negligent conduct of the doctors under the doctrine of ‘vicarious liability (the master is always liable for the wrongs of its agents / servants).
  2. Hospital protocols should have well-defined roles for each person in patient care. Only trained staff must be assigned certain duties which should not be delegated to others. Instructions given by the attending doctors must be religiously followed by the staff.

       

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Source : Dr. Alak Kumar Maity v/s Rabindra Nath Arinda & Ors.