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Dr. K. Mathiharan (Consultant Legal Medicine)
Institute of Legal Medicine
53/27, 5th Street, Padmanabha Nagar, 
Chennai - 600 020

The NCDRC’s order did not accept the claim of medical professionals who argued that the doctor-patient relationship is similar to master – servant relationship, which is a contract of personal service that should be exempted from CPA. But the NCDRC’s order decreed that the doctor – patient relationship is a contract for personal service and it is not master – servant relationship. It is also said that the doctor is an independent contractor and the doctor, like the servant, is hired to perform a specific task. However, the master or principal (the hirer) is allowed to direct only what is to be done, and done, and when. The ‘how’ is left up to the specific discretion of the independent contractor (doctor). So, the doctor-patient relationship is a contract for personal service and as such, cannot be excluded from CPA.

Highlights of the Supreme Court of India judgment in
Indian Medical Association
V.P. Shantha and Others

As a result of this judgment, medical profession has been brought under the Section 2(1) (o) of CPA, 1986 and also, it has included the following categories of doctors/hospitals under this Section:
1. All medical / dental practitioners doing independent medical / dental practice unless rendering only free service.
2. Private hospitals charging all patients.
3. All hospitals having free as well as paying patients and all the paying and free category patients receiving treatment in such hospitals.
4. Medical / dental practitioners and hospitals paid by an insurance firm for the treatment of a client or an employment for that of an employee.

It exempts only those hospitals and the medical / dental practitioners of such hospitals which offer free service to all patients.

Further, this judgment concedes that the summary procedure prescribed by the CPA would suit only glaring cases of negligence and in complaints involving complicated issues requiring recording of the evidence of experts, the complainant can be asked to approach the civil courts.

Also, this judgment says that the deficiency in service means only negligence in a medical negligence case and it would be determined under CPA by applying the same test as is applied in an action for damages for negligence in a civil court.

As a result of this judgment, virtually all private and government hospitals and the doctors employed by them and the independent medical / dental practitioners except primary health centers, birth control measures, anti malaria drive and other such welfare activities can be sued under the CPA.

Indian Medical Association v V.P. Shantha 1995 (3) CPR 412: AIR 1996 SC 550: 1995 (3) CPJI: 1995 (6) SCC 651: JT 1995 (8) SC (Supreme Court decided on 13.11.1995)

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