2009 July - Note 10

Receiving a legal notice and thereafter

Legal notices must not be taken lightly as they are annexed in legal proceedings and even referred by the court while pronouncing final judgment.

Legal notices must not be refused as any refusal is deemed as acceptance by court. If it is delivered by hand, the doctor or his/her staff should check whether there are any enclosures with the notice; whether all the enclosures are handed over and then acknowledge the receipt on the duplicate, recording date and time of receipt. This date and time must also be recorded on the doctor’s copy. In case of other modes of communication, like courier, post, fax or email, the date and time of receipt of the legal notice must be specifically recorded.

The accused doctor can reply to legal notices but it is advisable to consult a proper advocate at this stage. All medical records of that particular case and notes prepared at the relevant time must be perused and shown to lawyers.

All doctors and hospitals involved in a particular case must prepare their defenses in consultation with each other, preferably, in the presence of their respective advocates and that too before replying to the legal notice.

The line of defense must be ready before replying to a legal notice and must reflect in the reply. Replies must be given with utmost care as there will be no second chance to rectify any mistake therein.

There are two schools of thought on replying to a legal notice. One school prescribes that everything must be said in defense in a reply so that in future the patient cannot raise the allegation that the defense is an afterthought. It also gives credibility to the defense and is a pointer to the truthfulness of the doctor’s version. However, the other school prescribes that nothing except bare denials must be stated in reply as sometimes the patient raises additional and previously unknown grounds during legal proceedings. Certain statements that may have been stated in reply may then simply turn out to be counterproductive. Moreover, the patient also comes to know all that a doctor has in defense and can accordingly mould his or her legal proceedings.

The best reply will of course be something in between these two schools, depending upon the peculiar facts and circumstances of a given case. It is advisable that experienced lawyers be assigned the responsibility of replying to a legal notice.

There is no legal necessity to give a legal notice or to reply to the same, but the courts draw inferences on the conduct of the parties from these notices and replies. Hence it becomes imperative to reply each and every legal notice without any delay.

Copies of legal notice, summons, court notice, etc. along with a copy of insurance policy document must be sent to the insurance company at the earliest.

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