Remember that , to be prosecuted under 304 A death must be causa causans and not causa sine qua non.
Negligence per-se is defined in Black's Law Dictionary as under:-
Negligence per-se: - Conduct, whether of action or omission, which may be declared and treated as negligence without any argument or proof as to the particular surrounding circumstances, either because it is in violation of a statute or valid municipal ordinance, or because it is so palpably opposed to the dictates of common prudence that it can be said without hesitation or doubt that no careful person would have been guilty of it. As a general rule, the violation of a public duty, enjoined by law for the protection of person or property, so constitutes."
SUPREME court in Kurban Hussein Mohammedali Rangawalla v. State of Maharashtra (1965) 2 SCR 622, while dealing with Section 304A of IPC, the following statement of law by Sir Lawrence Jenkins in Emperor v. Omkar Rampratap (1902) 4 Bom LR 679, was cited with approval:-
"To impose criminal liability under Section 304A, Indian Penal Code, it is necessary that the death should have been the direct result of a rash and negligent act of the accused, and that act must be the proximate and efficient cause without the intervention of another's negligence. It must be the causa causans; it is not enough that it may have been the causa sine qua non."
LIABILITY OF THE DOCTOR UNDER 304A :-
According to Charlesworth & Percy on Negligence (Tenth Edition, 2001), in current forensic speech, negligence has three meanings. They are: (i) a state of mind, in which it is opposed to intention; (ii) careless conduct; and (iii) the breach of duty to take care that is imposed by either common or statute law. All three meanings are applicable in different circumstances but any one of them does not necessarily exclude the other meanings. (Para 1.01) The essential components of negligence, as recognized, are three: "duty", "breach" and "resulting damage", that is to say:-
1. the existence of a duty to take care, which is owed by the defendant to the complainant;
2. the failure to attain that standard of care, prescribed by the law, thereby committing a breach of such duty; and
3. damage, which is both causally connected with such breach and recognized by the law, has been suffered by the complainant. (Para 1.23)
Negligence __ as a tort and as a crime The term 'negligence' is used for the purpose of fastening the defendant with liability under the Civil Law and, at times, under the Criminal Law. It is contended on behalf of the respondents that in both the jurisdictions, negligence is negligence, and jurisprudentially no distinction can be drawn between negligence under civil law and negligence under criminal law. The submission so made cannot be countenanced inasmuch as it is based upon a total departure from the established terrain of thought running ever since the beginning of the emergence of the concept of negligence upto the modern times. Generally speaking, it is the amount of damages incurred which is determinative of the extent of liability in tort; but in criminal law it is not the amount of damages but the amount and degree of negligence that is determinative of liability. To fasten liability in Criminal Law, the degree of negligence has to be higher than that of negligence enough to fasten liability for damages in Civil Law. The essential ingredient of mens rea cannot be excluded from consideration when the charge in a criminal court consists of criminal negligence.
R. v. Caldwell 1981(1) All ER 961 (HL) dealt with the concept of recklessness as constituting mens rea in criminal law. His Lordship warned against adopting the simplistic approach of treating all problems of criminal liability as soluble by classifying the test of liability as being "subjective" or "objective", and said "Recklessness on the part of the doer of an act does presuppose that there is something in the circumstances that would have drawn the attention of an ordinary prudent individual to the possibility that his act was capable of causing the kind of serious harmful consequences that the section which creates the offence was intended to prevent, and that the risk of those harmful consequences occurring was not so slight that an ordinary prudent individual would feel justified in treating them as negligible. It is only when this is so that the doer of the act is acting 'recklessly' if, before doing the act, he either fails to give any thought to the possibility of there being any such risk or, having recognized that there was such risk, he nevertheless goes on to do it."
The moral culpability of recklessness is not located in a desire to cause harm. It resides in the proximity of the reckless state of mind to the state of mind present when there is an intention to cause harm. There is, in other words, a disregard for the possible consequences. The consequences entailed in the risk may not be wanted, and indeed the actor may hope that they do not occur, but this hope nevertheless fails to inhibit the taking of the risk. Certain types of violation, called optimizing violations, may be motivated by thrill-seeking. These are clearly reckless.
In order to hold the existence of criminal rashness or criminal negligence it shall have to be found out that the rashness was of such a degree as to amount to taking a hazard knowing that the hazard was of such a degree that injury was most likely imminent. The element of criminality is introduced by the accused having run the risk of doing such an act with recklessness and indifference to the consequences. Lord Atkin in his speech in Andrews v. Director of Public Prosecutions,  A.C. 576, stated, "Simple lack of care such as will constitute civil liability is not enough; for purposes of the criminal law there are degrees of negligence; and a very high degree of negligence is required to be proved before the felony is established." Thus, a clear distinction exists between "simple lack of care" incurring civil liability and "very high degree of negligence" which is required in criminal cases. Lord Porter said in his speech in the same case ___ "A higher degree of negligence has always been demanded in order to establish a criminal offence than is sufficient to create civil liability. (Charlesworth & Percy, ibid, Para 1.13) The fore-quoted statement of law in Andrews has been noted with approval by Supreme Court in Syad Akbar v. State of Karnataka (1980) 1 SCC 30. The Supreme Court has dealt with and pointed out with reasons the distinction between negligence in civil law and in criminal law. Their Lordships have opined that there is a marked difference as to the effect of evidence, viz. the proof, in civil and criminal proceedings. In civil proceedings, a mere preponderance of probability is sufficient, and the defendant is not necessarily entitled to the benefit of every reasonable doubt; but in criminal proceedings, the persuasion of guilt must amount to such a moral certainty as convinces the mind of the Court, as a reasonable man, beyond all reasonable doubt. Where negligence is an essential ingredient of the offence, the negligence to be established by the prosecution must be culpable or gross and not the negligence merely based upon an error of judgment.
NEGLIGENCE IN PROFESSIONAL SENSE :-
Negligence by professionals In the law of negligence, professionals such as lawyers, doctors, architects and others are included in the category of persons professing some special skill or skilled persons generally. Any task which is required to be performed with a special skill would generally be admitted or undertaken to be performed only if the person possesses the requisite skill for performing that task. Any reasonable man entering into a profession which requires a particular level of learning to be called a professional of that branch, impliedly assures the person dealing with him that the skill which he professes to possess shall be exercised and exercised with reasonable degree of care and caution. He does not assure his client of the result. A lawyer does not tell his client that the client shall win the case in all circumstances. A physician would not assure the patient of full recovery in every case. A surgeon cannot and does not guarantee that the result of surgery would invariably be beneficial, much less to the extent of 100% for the person operated on. The only assurance which such a professional can give or can be understood to have given by implication is that he is possessed of the requisite skill in that branch of profession which he is practising and while undertaking the performance of the task entrusted to him he would be exercising his skill with reasonable competence. This is all what the person approaching the professional can expect. Judged by this standard, a professional may be held liable for negligence on one of two findings: either he was not possessed of the requisite skill which he professed to have possessed, or, he did not exercise, with reasonable competence in the given case, the skill which he did possess. The standard to be applied for judging, whether the person charged has been negligent or not, would be that of an ordinary competent person exercising ordinary skill in that profession. It is not necessary for every professional to possess the highest level of expertise in that branch which he practices.
In Michael Hyde and Associates v. J.D. Williams & Co. Ltd.,  P.N.L.R. 233, CA, Sedley L.J. said that where a profession embraces a range of views as to what is an acceptable standard of conduct, the competence of the defendant is to be judged by the lowest standard that would be regarded as acceptable. (Charlesworth & Percy, ibid, Para 8.03) Oft'quoted passage defining negligence by professionals, generally and not necessarily confined to doctors, is to be found in the opinion of McNair J. in Bolam v. Friern Hospital Management Committee,  1 W.L.R. 582, 586 in the following words: "In the ordinary case which does not involve any special skill, negligence in law means this : some failure to do some act which a reasonable man in the circumstances would do, or doing some act which a reasonable man in the circumstances would not do; and if that failure or doing of that act results in injury, then there is a cause of action. How do you test whether this act or failure is negligent? In an ordinary case, it is generally said, that you judge that by the action of the man in the street. He is the ordinary man. In one case it has been said that you judge it by the conduct of the man on the top of a Clapham omnibus. He is the ordinary man. But where you get a situation which involves the use of some special skill or competence, then the test whether there has been negligence or not is not the test of the man on the top of a Claphm omnibus, because he has not got this man exercising and professing to have that special skill. A man need not possess the highest expert skill at the risk of being found negligent. It is well-established law that it is sufficient if he exercises the ordinary skill of an ordinary competent man exercising that particular art.""
(Charlesworth & Percy, ibid, Para 8.02) The water of Bolam test has ever since flown and passed under several bridges, having been cited and dealt with in several judicial pronouncements, one after the other and has continued to be well received by every shore it has touched as neat, clean and well- condensed one. After a review of various authorities Bingham L.J. in his speech in Eckersley v. Binnie,  18 Con.L.R. 1, 79 summarised the Bolam test in the following words:- "From these general statements it follows that a professional man should command the corpus of knowledge which forms part of the professional equipment of the ordinary member of his profession. He should not lag behind other ordinary assiduous and intelligent members of his profession in knowledge of new advances, discoveries and developments in his field. He should have such an awareness as an ordinarily competent practitioner would have of the deficiencies in his knowledge and the limitations on his skill. He should be alert to the hazards and risks in any professional task he undertakes to the extent that other ordinarily competent members of the profession would be alert. He must bring to any professional task he undertakes no less expertise, skill and care than other ordinarily competent members of his profession would bring, but need bring no more. The standard is that of the reasonable average. The law does not require of a professional man that he be a paragon combining the qualities of polymath and prophet."
(Charlesworth & Percy, ibid, Para 8.04) The degree of skill and care required by a medical practitioner is so stated in Halsbury's Laws of England (Fourth Edition, Vol.30, Para 35):-
"The practitioner must bring to his task a reasonable degree of skill and knowledge, and must exercise a reasonable degree of care. Neither the very highest nor a very low degree of care and competence, judged in the light of the particular circumstances of each case, is what the law requires, and a person is not liable in negligence because someone else of greater skill and knowledge would have prescribed different treatment or operated in a different way; nor is he guilty of negligence if he has acted in accordance with a practice accepted as proper by a responsible body of medical men skilled in that particular art, even though a body of adverse opinion also existed among medical men.
Deviation from normal practice is not necessarily evidence of negligence. To establish liability on that basis it must be shown (1) that there is a usual and normal practice; (2) that the defendant has not adopted it; and (3) that the course in fact adopted is one no professional man of ordinary skill would have taken had he been acting with ordinary care." (approved in Jacob Mathhew v. state of punjab)
Abovesaid three tests have also been stated as determinative of negligence in professional practice by Charlesworth & Percy in their celebrated work on Negligence (ibid, para 8.110) In the opinion of Lord Denning, as expressed in Hucks v. Cole,  118 New LJ 469, a medical practitioner was not to be held liable simply because things went wrong from mischance or misadventure or through an error of judgment in choosing one reasonable course of treatment in preference of another. A medical practitioner would be liable only where his conduct fell below that of the standards of a reasonably competent practitioner in his field.
The decision of House of Lords in Maynard v. West Midlands Regional Health Authority,  1 All ER 635 (HL) by a Bench consisting of five Law Lords has been accepted as having settled the law on the point by holding that it is not enough to show that there is a body of competent professional opinion which considers that decision of the defendant professional was a wrong decision, if there also exists a body of professional opinion, equally competent, which supports the decision as reasonable in the circumstances. It is not enough to show that subsequent events show that the operation need never have been performed, if at the time the decision to operate was taken, it was reasonable, in the sense that a responsible body of medical opinion would have accepted it as proper. Lord Scarman who recorded the leading speech with which other four Lords agreed quoted the following words of Lord President (Clyde) in Hunter v. Hanley 1955 SLT 213 at 217, observing that the words cannot be bettered "In the realm of diagnosis and treatment there is ample scope for genuine difference of opinion and one man clearly is not negligent merely because his conclusion differs from that of other professional menThe true test for establishing negligence in diagnosis or treatment on the part of a doctor is whether he has been proved to be guilty of such failure as no doctor of ordinary skill would be guilty of if acting with ordinary care". Lord Scarman added "a doctor who professes to exercise a special skill must exercise the ordinary skill of his speciality. Differences of opinion and practice exist, and will always exist, in the medical as in other professions. There is seldom any one answer exclusive of all others to problems of professional judgment. A court may prefer one body of opinion to the other, but that is no basis for a conclusion of negligence." His Lordship further added "that a judge's 'preference' for one body of distinguished professional opinion to another also professionally distinguished is not sufficient to establish negligence in a practitioner whose actions have received the seal of approval of those whose opinions, truthfully expressed, honestly held, were not preferred."
The classical statement of law in Bolam's case has been widely accepted as decisive of the standard of care required both of professional men generally and medical practitioners in particular. It has been invariably cited with approval before Courts in India and applied to as touchstone to test the pleas of medical negligence. In tort, it is enough for the defendant to show that the standard of care and the skill attained was that of the ordinary competent medical practitioner exercising an ordinary degree of professional skill. The fact that a defendant charged with negligence acted in accord with the general and approved practice is enough to clear him of the charge. Two things are pertinent to be noted. Firstly, the standard of care, when assessing the practice as adopted, is judged in the light of knowledge available at the time (of the incident), and not at the date of trial. Secondly, when the charge of negligence arises out of failure to use some particular equipment, the charge would fail if the equipment was not generally available at that point of time on which it is suggested as should have been used.
A mere deviation from normal professional practice is not necessarily evidence of negligence. Let it also be noted that a mere accident is not evidence of negligence. So also an error of judgment on the part of a professional is not negligence per se. Higher the acuteness in emergency and higher the complication, more are the chances of error of judgment. At times, the professional is confronted with making a choice between the devil and the deep sea and he has to choose the lesser evil. The medical professional is often called upon to adopt a procedure which involves higher element of risk, but which he honestly believes as providing greater chances of success for the patient rather than a procedure involving lesser risk but higher chances of failure. Which course is more appropriate to follow, would depend on the facts and circumstances of a given case. The usual practice prevalent nowadays is to obtain the consent of the patient or of the person incharge of the patient if the patient is not be in a position to give consent before adopting a given procedure. So long as it can be found that the procedure which was in fact adopted was one which was acceptable to medical science as on that date, the medical practitioner cannot be held negligent merely because he chose to follow one procedure and not another and the result was a failure.
No sensible professional would intentionally commit an act or omission which would result in loss or injury to the patient as the professional reputation of the person is at stake. A single failure may cost him dear in his career. Even in civil jurisdiction, the rule of res ipsa loquitur is not of universal application and has to be applied with extreme care and caution to the cases of professional negligence and in particular that of the doctors. Else it would be counter productive. Simply because a patient has not favourably responded to a treatment given by a physician or a surgery has failed, the doctor cannot be held liable per se by applying the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.
DOCTRINE OF RES IPSA LOQUITER IN CRIMINAL LAW
Res ipsa loquitur is a rule of evidence which in reality belongs to the law of torts. Inference as to negligence may be drawn from proved circumstances by applying the rule if the cause of the accident is unknown and no reasonable explanation as to the cause is coming forth from the defendant. In criminal proceedings, the burden of proving negligence as an essential ingredient of the offence lies on the prosecution. Such ingredient cannot be said to have been proved or made out by resorting to the said rule (See Syad Kabar v. State of Karnataka (1980) 1 SCC 30). Incidentally, it may be noted that in Krishnan and Anr. v. State of Kerala (1996) 10 SCC 508 the Court has observed that there may be a case where the proved facts would themselves speak of sharing of common intention and while making such observation one of the learned judges constituting the Bench has in his concurring opinion merely stated "res ipsa loquitur'. Nowhere it has been stated that the rule has applicability in a criminal case and an inference as to an essential ingredient of an offence can be found proved by resorting to the said rule. In our opinion, a case under Section 304A IPC cannot be decided solely by applying the rule of res ipsa loquitur.
A medical practitioner faced with an emergency ordinarily tries his best to redeem the patient out of his suffering. He does not gain anything by acting with negligence or by omitting to do an act. Obviously, therefore, it will be for the complainant to clearly make out a case of negligence before a medical practitioner is charged with or proceeded against criminally. A surgeon with shaky hands under fear of legal action cannot perform a successful operation and a quivering physician cannot administer the end-dose of medicine to his patient.
If the hands be trembling with the dangling fear of facing a criminal prosecution in the event of failure for whatever reason whether attributable to himself or not, neither a surgeon can successfully wield his life-saving scalper to perform an essential surgery, nor can a physician successfully administer the life-saving dose of medicine. Discretion being better part of valour, a medical professional would feel better advised to leave a terminal patient to his own fate in the case of emergency where the chance of success may be 10% (or so), rather than taking the risk of making a last ditch effort towards saving the subject and facing a criminal prosecution if his effort fails. Such timidity forced upon a doctor would be a disservice to the society.
The purpose of holding a professional liable for his act or omission, if negligent, is to make the life safer and to eliminate the possibility of recurrence of negligence in future. Human body and medical science both are too complex to be easily understood. To hold in favour of existence of negligence, associated with the action or inaction of a medical professional, requires an in-depth understanding of the working of a professional as also the nature of the job and of errors committed by chance, which do not necessarily involve the element of culpability.
The subject of negligence in the context of medical profession necessarily calls for treatment with a difference. Several relevant considerations in this regard are found mentioned by Alan Merry and Alexander McCall Smith in their work "Errors, Medicine and the Law" (Cambridge University Press, 2001). There is a marked tendency to look for a human actor to blame for an untoward event a tendency which is closely linked with the desire to punish. Things have gone wrong and, therefore, somebody must be found to answer for it. To draw a distinction between the blameworthy and the blameless, the notion of mens rea has to be elaborately understood. An empirical study would reveal that the background to a mishap is frequently far more complex than may generally be assumed. It can be demonstrated that actual blame for the outcome has to be attributed with great caution. For a medical accident or failure, the responsibility may lie with the medical practitioner and equally it may not. The inadequacies of the system, the specific circumstances of the case, the nature of human psychology itself and sheer chance may have combined to produce a result in which the doctor's contribution is either relatively or completely blameless. Human body and its working is nothing less than a highly complex machine. Coupled with the complexities of medical science, the scope for misimpressions, misgivings and misplaced allegations against the operator i.e. the doctor, cannot be ruled out. One may have notions of best or ideal practice which are different from the reality of how medical practice is carried on or how in real life the doctor functions. The factors of pressing need and limited resources cannot be ruled out from consideration. Dealing with a case of medical negligence needs a deeper understanding of the practical side of medicine.
At least three weighty considerations can be pointed out which any forum trying the issue of medical negligence in any jurisdiction must keep in mind. These are: (i) that legal and disciplinary procedures should be properly founded on firm, moral and scientific grounds; (ii) that patients will be better served if the real causes of harm are properly identified and appropriately acted upon; and (iii) that many incidents involve a contribution from more than one person, and the tendency is to blame the last identifiable element in the chain of causation the person holding the 'smoking gun'. (approved in Jacob mathews v. state of Punjab)
Accident during the course of medical or surgical treatment has a wider meaning. Ordinarily, an accident means an unintended and unforeseen injurious occurrence; something that does not occur in the usual course of events or that could not be reasonably anticipated (See, Black's Law Dictionary, 7th Edition). Care has to be taken to see that the result of an accident which is exculpatory may not persuade the human mind to confuse it with the consequence of negligence.
Medical Professionals in Criminal Law The criminal law has invariably placed the medical professionals on a pedestal different from ordinary mortals. The Indian Penal Code enacted as far back as in the year 1860 sets out a few vocal examples. Section 88 in the Chapter on General Exceptions provides exemption for acts not intended to cause death, done by consent in good faith for person's benefit. Section 92 provides for exemption for acts done in good faith for the benefit of a person without his consent though the acts cause harm to a person and that person has not consented to suffer such harm. There are four exceptions listed in the Section which is not necessary in this context to deal with. Section 93 saves from criminality certain communications made in good faith .
The law laid down by the Privy Council in John Oni Akerele v. The King AIR 1943 PC 72. A duly qualified medical practitioner gave to his patient the injection of Sobita which consisted of sodium bismuth tartrate as given in the British Pharmacopoea. However, what was administered was an overdose of Sobita. The patient died. The doctor was accused of manslaughter, reckless and negligent act. He was convicted. The matter reached in appeal before the House of Lords. Their Lordships quashed the conviction. On a review of judicial opinion and an illuminating discussion on the points which are also relevant before us, what their Lordships have held can be summed up as under:-
(i) That a doctor is not criminally responsible for a patient's death unless his negligence or incompetence went beyond a mere matter of compensation between subjects and showed such disregard for life and safety of others as to amount to a crime against the State.;
(ii) That the degree of negligence required is that it should be gross, and that neither a jury nor a court can transform negligence of a lesser degree into gross negligence merely by giving it that appellation. There is a difference in kind between the negligence which gives a right to compensation and the negligence which is a crime.
(iii) It is impossible to define culpable or criminal negligence, and it is not possible to make the distinction between actionable negligence and criminal negligence intelligible, except by means of illustrations drawn from actual judicial opinion. The most favourable view of the conduct of an accused medical man has to be taken, for it would be most fatal to the efficiency of the medical profession if no one could administer medicine without a halter round his neck."
Their Lordships refused to accept the view that criminal negligence was proved merely because a number of persons were made gravely ill after receiving an injection of Sobita from the appellant coupled with a finding that a high degree of care was not exercised. Their Lordships also refused to agree with the thought that merely because too strong a mixture was dispensed once and a number of persons were made gravely ill, a criminal degree of negligence was proved.
The question of degree has always been considered as relevant to a distinction between negligence in civil law and negligence in criminal law.
In Kurban Hussein Mohamedalli Rangawalla v. State of Maharashtra (1965) 2 SCR 622, while dealing with Section 304A of IPC, the following statement of law by Sir Lawrence Jenkins in Emperor v. Omkar Rampratap 4 Bom LR 679, was cited with approval:-
"To impose criminal liability under Section 304-A, Indian Penal Code, it is necessary that the death should have been the direct result of a rash and negligent act of the accused, and that act must be the proximate and efficient cause without the intervention of another's negligence. It must be the causa causans; it is not enough that it may have been the causa sine qua non."
The question of degree has always been considered as relevant to a distinction between negligence in civil law and negligence in criminal law. In Kurban Hussein Mohamedalli Rangawalla v. State of Maharashtra (1965) 2 SCR 622, while dealing with Section 304A of IPC, the following statement of law by Sir Lawrence Jenkins in Emperor v. Omkar Rampratap 4 Bom LR 679, was cited with approval:-
"To impose criminal liability under Section 304-A, Indian Penal Code, it is necessary that the death should have been the direct result of a rash and negligent act of the accused, and that act must be the proximate and efficient cause without the intervention of another's negligence. It must be the causa causans; it is not enough that it may have been the causa sine qua non."
K.N. Wanchoo, J. (as he then was), speaking for the Court, observed that the abovesaid view of the law has been generally followed by High Courts in India and was the correct view to take of the meaning of Section 304A. The same view has been reiterated in Kishan Chand & Anr. v. The State of Haryana (1970) 3 SCC 904.
In Poonam Verma v. Ashwin Patel & Ors. (1996) 4 SCC 332 where the question of medical negligence was considered in the context of treatment of a patient, it was observed as under:-
"40. Negligence has many manifestations - it may be active negligence, collateral negligence, comparative negligence, concurrent negligence, continued negligence, criminal negligence, gross negligence, hazardous negligence, active and passive negligence, wilful or reckless negligence or Negligence per se."
In Juggankhan v. The State of Madhya Pradesh (1965) 1 SCR 14, the accused, a registered Homoeopath, administered 24 drops of stramonium and a leaf of dhatura to the patient suffering from guinea worm. The accused had not studied the effect of such substances being administered to a human being. The poisonous contents of the leaf of dhatura, were not satisfactorily established by the prosecution. This Court exonerated the accused of the charge under Section 302 IPC. However, on a finding that stramonium and dhatura leaves are poisonous and in no system of medicine, except perhaps Ayurvedic system, the dhatura leaf is given as cure for guinea worm, the act of the accused who prescribed poisonous material without studying their probable effect was held to be a rash and negligent act. It would be seen that the profession of a Homoeopath which the accused claimed to profess did not permit use of the substance administered to the patient. The accused had no knowledge of the effect of such substance being administered and yet he did so. In this background, the inference of the accused being guilty of rash and negligent act was drawn against him. In our opinion, the principle which emerges is that a doctor who administers a medicine known to or used in a particular branch of medical profession impliedly declares that he has knowledge of that branch of science and if he does not, in fact, possess that knowledge, he is prima facie acting with rashness or negligence.
Dr. Laxman Balkrishna Joshi v. Dr. Trimbak Bapu Godbole and Anr. (1969) 1 SCR 206 was a case under Fatal Accidents Act, 1855. It does not make a reference to any other decided case. The duties which a doctor owes to his patients came up for consideration. The Court held that a person who holds himself out ready to give medical advice and treatment impliedly undertakes that he is possessed of skill and knowledge for that purpose. Such a person when consulted by a patient owes him certain duties, viz., a duty of care in deciding whether to undertake the case, a duty of care in deciding what treatment to be given or a duty of care in the administration of that treatment. A breach of any of those duties gives a right of action for negligence to the patient. The practitioner must bring to his task a reasonable degree of skill and knowledge and must exercise a reasonable degree of care. Neither the very highest nor a very low degree of care and competence judged in the light of the particular circumstances of each case is what the law requires. The doctor no doubt has a discretion in choosing treatment which he proposes to give to the patient and such discretion is relatively ampler in cases of emergency. In this case, the death of patient was caused due to shock resulting from reduction of the fracture attempted by doctor without taking the elementary caution of giving anaesthetic to the patient. The doctor was held guilty of negligence and liability for damages in civil law. We hasten to add that criminal negligence or liability under criminal law was not an issue before the Court as it did not arise and hence was not considered.
In the year 1996, there are 3 reported decisions available.
Indian Medical Association v. V.P. Shantha and Ors. (1995) 6 SCC 651 is a three-Judge Bench decision. The principal issue which arose for decision by the Court was whether a medical practitioner renders 'service' and can be proceeded against for 'deficiency in service' before a forum under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The Court dealt with how a 'profession' differs from an 'occupation' especially in the context of performance of duties and hence the occurrence of negligence. The Court noticed that medical professionals do not enjoy any immunity from being sued in contract or tort (i.e. in civil jurisdiction) on the ground of negligence. However, in the observation made in the context of determining professional liability as distinguished from occupational liability, the Court has referred to authorities, in particular, Jackson & Powell and have so stated the principles, partly quoted from the authorities :-
"In the matter of professional liability professions differ from occupations for the reason that professions operate in spheres where success cannot be achieved in every case and very often success or failure depends upon factors beyond the professional man's control. In devising a rational approach to professional liability which must provide proper protection to the consumer while allowing for the factors mentioned above, the approach of the Courts is to require that professional men should possess a certain minimum degree of competence and that they should exercise reasonable care in the discharge of their duties. In general, a professional man owes to his client a duty in tort as well as in contract to exercise reasonable care in giving advice or performing services. (See : Jackson & Powell on Professional Negligence, 3rd Edn., paras 1-04, 1-05, and 1-56)."
In Poonam Verma v. Ashwin Patel and Ors., (1996) 4 SCC 332 a doctor registered as medical practitioner and entitled to practice in Homoeopathy only, prescribed an allopathic medicine to the patient. The patient died. The doctor was held to be negligent and liable to compensate the wife of the deceased for the death of her husband on the ground that the doctor who was entitled to practice in homoeopathy only, was under a statutory duty not to enter the field of any other system of medicine and since he trespassed into a prohibited field and prescribed the allopathic medicine to the patient causing the death, his conduct amounted to negligence per se actionable in civil law. Dr. Laxman Balkrishna Joshi's case (supra) was followed. Vide para 16, the test for determining whether there was negligence on the part of a medical practitioner as laid down in Bolam's case (supra) was cited and approved.
In Achutrao Haribhau Khodwa and Ors. v. State of Maharashtra and Ors. (1996) 2 SCC 634 the Court noticed that in the very nature of medical profession, skills differs from doctor to doctor and more than one alternative course of treatment are available, all admissible. Negligence cannot be attributed to a doctor so long as he is performing his duties to the best of his ability and with due care and caution. Merely because the doctor chooses one course of action in preference to the other one available, he would not be liable if the course of action chosen by him was acceptable to the medical profession. It was a case where a mop was left inside the lady patient's abdomen during an operation. Peritonitis developed which led to a second surgery being performed on her, but she could not survive. Liability for negligence was fastened on the surgeon because no valid explanation was forthcoming for the mop having been left inside the abdomen of the lady. The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur was held applicable 'in a case like this'.
M/s Spring Meadows Hospital and Anr. v. Harjol Ahluwalia through K.S. Ahluwalia and Anr. (1998) 4 SCC 39 is again a case of liability for negligence by a medical professional in civil law. It was held that an error of judgment is not necessarily negligence. The Court referred to the decision in Whitehouse & Jorden,  1 ALL ER 267, and cited with approval the following statement of law contained in the opinion of Lord Fraser determining when an error of judgment can be termed as negligence:-
"The true position is that an error of judgment may, or may not, be negligent, it depends on the nature of the error. If it is one that would not have been made by a reasonably competent professional man professing to have the standard and type of skill that the defendant holds himself out as having, and acting with ordinary care, then it is negligence. If, on the other hand, it is an error that such a man, acting with ordinary care, might have made, then it is not negligence." It was further held that Gross medical mistake will always result in a finding of negligence. Use of wrong drug or wrong gas during the course of anaesthetic will frequently lead to the imposition of liability and in some situations even the principle of Res ipsa loquitur can be applied. Even delegation of responsibility to another may amount to negligence in certain circumstances. A consultant could be negligent where he delegates the responsibility to his junior with the knowledge that the junior was incapable of performing of his duties properly.
In State of Haryana and Ors. v. Smt. Santra, (2000) 5 SCC 182 also Bolam's test has been approved. This case too refers to liability for compensation under civil law for failure of sterilisation operation performed by a surgeon.
In C.P. Sreekumar (Dr.), MS (Ortho) v. S. Ramanujam (2009) 7 SCC 130 this court had an occasion to deal with the case of medical negligence in a case in which the respondent was hit by a motor-cycle while going on his by-cycle sustained a hairline fracture of the neck of the right femur.
. Pre-operative evaluation was made and the appellant Dr. Sreekumar, on considering the various options available, decided to perform a hemiarthroplasty instead of going in for the internal fixation procedure. The respondent consented for the choice of surgery after the various options have been explained to him. The surgery was performed the next day. The respondent filed a complaint against the appellant for medical negligence for not opting internal fixation procedure. This court held that the appellant's decision for choosing hemiarthroplasty with respect to a patient of 42 years of age was not so palpably erroneous or unacceptable as to dub it as a case of professional negligence.
"Errors, Medicine and the Law" (pp. 241-248), (recorded at the end of the book in the chapter titled 'Conclusion') highlighting the link between moral fault, blame and justice in reference to medical profession and negligence. These are of significance and relevant to the issues before us. Hence we quote :-
(i) The social efficacy of blame and related sanctions in particular cases of deliberate wrongdoings may be a matter of dispute, but their necessity in principle from a moral point of view, has been accepted. Distasteful as punishment may be, the social, and possibly moral, need to punish people for wrongdoing, occasionally in a severe fashion, cannot be escaped. A society in which blame is overemphasized may become paralysed. This is not only because such a society will inevitably be backward- looking, but also because fear of blame inhibits the uncluttered exercise of judgment in relations between persons. If we are constantly concerned about whether our actions will be the subject of complaint, and that such complaint is likely to lead to legal action or disciplinary proceedings, a relationship of suspicious formality between persons is inevitable. (ibid, pp. 242-243)
(ii) Culpability may attach to the consequence of an error in circumstances where substandard antecedent conduct has been deliberate, and has contributed to the generation of the error or to its outcome. In case of errors, the only failure is a failure defined in terms of the normative standard of what should have been done. There is a tendency to confuse the reasonable person with the error-free person. While nobody can avoid errors on the basis of simply choosing not to make them, people can choose not to commit violations. A violation is culpable. (ibid, p. 245).
(iii) Before the court faced with deciding the cases of professional negligence there are two sets of interests which are at stake : the interests of the plaintiff and the interests of the defendant. A correct balance of these two sets of interests should ensure that tort liability is restricted to those cases where there is a real failure to behave as a reasonably competent practitioner would have behaved. An inappropriate raising of the standard of care threatens this balance. (ibid, p.246). A consequence of encouraging litigation for loss is to persuade the public that all loss encountered in a medical context is the result of the failure of somebody in the system to provide the level of care to which the patient is entitled. The effect of this on the doctor-patient relationship is distorting and will not be to the benefit of the patient in the long run. It is also unjustified to impose on those engaged in medical treatment an undue degree of additional stress and anxiety in the conduct of their profession. Equally, it would be wrong to impose such stress and anxiety on any other person performing a demanding function in society. (ibid, p.247). While expectations from the professionals must be realistic and the expected standards attainable, this implies recognition of the nature of ordinary human error and human limitations in the performance of complex tasks. (ibid, p. 247).
(iv) Conviction for any substantial criminal offence requires that the accused person should have acted with a morally blameworthy state of mind. Recklessness and deliberate wrongdoing, are morally blameworthy, but any conduct falling short of that should not be the subject of criminal liability. Common-law systems have traditionally only made negligence the subject of criminal sanction when the level of negligence has been high a standard traditionally described as gross negligence. In fact, negligence at that level is likely to be indistinguishable from recklessness. (ibid, p.248).
(v) Blame is a powerful weapon. Its inappropriate use distorts tolerant and constructive relations between people. Distinguishing between (a) accidents which are life's misfortune for which nobody is morally responsible, (b) wrongs amounting to culpable conduct and constituting grounds for compensation, and (c) those (i.e. wrongs) calling for punishment on account of being gross or of a very high degree requires and calls for careful, morally sensitive and scientifically informed analysis; else there would be injustice to the larger interest of the society. (ibid, p. 248).
Indiscriminate prosecution of medical professionals for criminal negligence is counter-productive and does no service or good to the society.
Supreme Court of India
Jacob Mathew vs State Of Punjab & Anr on 5 August, 2005
Bench: Cji R.C. Lahoti, G.P. Mathur, P.K.Balasubramanyan
FACTS OF THIS CASE : The gist of the information is that on 15.2.1995, the informant's father, late Jiwan Lal Sharma was admitted as a patient in a private ward of CMC Hospital, Ludhiana. On 22.2.1995 at about 11 p.m., Jiwan Lal felt difficulty in breathing. The complainant's elder brother, Vijay Sharma who was present in the room contacted the duty nurse, who in her turn called some doctor to attend to the patient. No doctor turned up for about 20 to 25 minutes. Then, Dr. Jacob Mathew and Dr.Allen Joseph came to the room of the patient. An oxygen cylinder was brought and connected to the mouth of the patient but the breathing problem increased further. The patient tried to get up but the medical staff asked him to remain in the bed. The oxygen cylinder was found to be empty. There was no other gas cylinder available in the room. Vijay Sharma went to the adjoining room and brought a gas cylinder therefrom. However, there was no arrangement to make the gas cylinder functional and in-between, 5 to 7 minutes were wasted. By this time, another doctor came who declared that the patient was dead. The latter part of the FIR states (as per the translation in English as filed by the complainant):the death of my father was occurred due to the carelessness of doctors and nurses and non availability of oxygen cylinder and the empty cylinder was fixed on the mouth of my father and his breathing was totally stopped hence my father died. I sent the dead body of my father to my village for last cremation and for information I have come to you. Suitable action be done Sd/--As per statement of intimator the death of Jiwan Lal Sharma has occurred due to carelessness of doctors and nurses concerned and to fit empty gas cylinder." A charge was then framed under 304 A by judicial magistrate and appeal was brought before Supreme court against framing of the charge.
Supreme Court held : It is not the case of the complainant that the accused-appellant was not a doctor qualified to treat the patient whom he agreed to treat. It is a case of non- availability of oxygen cylinder either because of the hospital having failed to keep available a gas cylinder or because of the gas cylinder being found empty. Then, probably the hospital may be liable in civil law (or may not be we express no opinion thereon) but the accused appellant cannot be proceeded against under Section 304A IPC on the parameters of Bolam's test.
Result The prosecution of the accused appellant under Section 304A/34 IPC is quashed.
(1) Negligence is the breach of a duty caused by omission to do something which a reasonable man guided by those considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs would do, or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would not do. The definition of negligence as given in Law of Torts, Ratanlal & Dhirajlal (edited by Justice G.P. Singh), referred to hereinabove, holds good. Negligence becomes actionable on account of injury resulting from the act or omission amounting to negligence attributable to the person sued. The essential components of negligence are three: 'duty', 'breach' and 'resulting damage'.
(2) Negligence in the context of medical profession necessarily calls for a treatment with a difference. To infer rashness or negligence on the part of a professional, in particular a doctor, additional considerations apply. A case of occupational negligence is different from one of professional negligence. A simple lack of care, an error of judgment or an accident, is not proof of negligence on the part of a medical professional. So long as a doctor follows a practice acceptable to the medical profession of that day, he cannot be held liable for negligence merely because a better alternative course or method of treatment was also available or simply because a more skilled doctor would not have chosen to follow or resort to that practice or procedure which the accused followed. When it comes to the failure of taking precautions what has to be seen is whether those precautions were taken which the ordinary experience of men has found to be sufficient; a failure to use special or extraordinary precautions which might have prevented the particular happening cannot be the standard for judging the alleged negligence. So also, the standard of care, while assessing the practice as adopted, is judged in the light of knowledge available at the time of the incident, and not at the date of trial. Similarly, when the charge of negligence arises out of failure to use some particular equipment, the charge would fail if the equipment was not generally available at that particular time (that is, the time of the incident) at which it is suggested it should have been used.
(3) A professional may be held liable for negligence on one of the two findings: either he was not possessed of the requisite skill which he professed to have possessed, or, he did not exercise, with reasonable competence in the given case, the skill which he did possess. The standard to be applied for judging, whether the person charged has been negligent or not, would be that of an ordinary competent person exercising ordinary skill in that profession. It is not possible for every professional to possess the highest level of expertise or skills in that branch which he practices. A highly skilled professional may be possessed of better qualities, but that cannot be made the basis or the yardstick for judging the performance of the professional proceeded against on indictment of negligence.
(4) The test for determining medical negligence as laid down in Bolam's case  1 W.L.R. 582, 586 holds good in its applicability in India.
(5) The jurisprudential concept of negligence differs in civil and criminal law. What may be negligence in civil law may not necessarily be negligence in criminal law. For negligence to amount to an offence, the element of mens rea must be shown to exist. For an act to amount to criminal negligence, the degree of negligence should be much higher i.e. gross or of a very high degree. Negligence which is neither gross nor of a higher degree may provide a ground for action in civil law but cannot form the basis for prosecution.
(6) The word 'gross' has not been used in Section 304A of IPC, yet it is settled that in criminal law negligence or recklessness, to be so held, must be of such a high degree as to be 'gross'. The expression 'rash or negligent act' as occurring in Section 304A of the IPC has to be read as qualified by the word 'grossly'.
(7) To prosecute a medical professional for negligence under criminal law it must be shown that the accused did something or failed to do something which in the given facts and circumstances no medical professional in his ordinary senses and prudence would have done or failed to do. The hazard taken by the accused doctor should be of such a nature that the injury which resulted was most likely imminent.
(8) Res ipsa loquitur is only a rule of evidence and operates in the domain of civil law specially in cases of torts and helps in determining the onus of proof in actions relating to negligence. It cannot be pressed in service for determining per se the liability for negligence within the domain of criminal law. Res ipsa loquitur has, if at all, a limited application in trial on a charge of criminal negligence.
Guidelines re: prosecuting medical professionals As we have noticed hereinabove that the cases of doctors (surgeons and physicians) being subjected to criminal prosecution are on an increase. Sometimes such prosecutions are filed by private complainants and sometimes by police on an FIR being lodged and cognizance taken. The investigating officer and the private complainant cannot always be supposed to have knowledge of medical science so as to determine whether the act of the accused medical professional amounts to rash or negligent act within the domain of criminal law under Section 304-A of IPC. The criminal process once initiated subjects the medical professional to serious embarrassment and sometimes harassment. He has to seek bail to escape arrest, which may or may not be granted to him. At the end he may be exonerated by acquittal or discharge but the loss which he has suffered in his reputation cannot be compensated by any standards.
We may not be understood as holding that doctors can never be prosecuted for an offence of which rashness or negligence is an essential ingredient. All that we are doing is to emphasize the need for care and caution in the interest of society; for, the service which the medical profession renders to human beings is probably the noblest of all, and hence there is a need for protecting doctors from frivolous or unjust prosecutions. Many a complainant prefers recourse to criminal process as a tool for pressurizing the medical professional for extracting uncalled for or unjust compensation. Such malicious proceedings have to be guarded against.
Statutory Rules or Executive Instructions incorporating certain guidelines need to be framed and issued by the Government of India and/or the State Governments in consultation with the Medical Council of India. So long as it is not done, we propose to lay down certain guidelines for the future which should govern the prosecution of doctors for offences of which criminal rashness or criminal negligence is an ingredient. A private complaint may not be entertained unless the complainant has produced prima facie evidence before the Court in the form of a credible opinion given by another competent doctor to support the charge of rashness or negligence on the part of the accused doctor. The investigating officer should, before proceeding against the doctor accused of rash or negligent act or omission, obtain an independent and competent medical opinion preferably from a doctor in government service qualified in that branch of medical practice who can normally be expected to give an impartial and unbiased opinion applying Bolam's test to the facts collected in the investigation. A doctor accused of rashness or negligence, may not be arrested in a routine manner (simply because a charge has been levelled against him). Unless his arrest is necessary for furthering the investigation or for collecting evidence or unless the investigation officer feels satisfied that the doctor proceeded against would not make himself available to face the prosecution unless arrested, the arrest may be withheld.
High Court of Madhya Pradesh in Khushaldas Pammandas (Dr.) v. State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 1960 MP 50. In that case, the appellant, Hakim examined M, who was `tired' and `exhausted'. The Hakim found that M had no temperature. The Hakim, however, advised M to take a Procaine Penicillin injection. Injection was then given to M, who perspired profusely, started vomiting and died. The Hakim was prosecuted for commission of an offence punishable under Section 304A, IPC and was convicted.
Upholding the conviction, the High Court observed that a person totally ignorant of science of medicine or practice of surgery cannot undertake a treatment or perform operation. If he does so, it is a material circumstance to show his gross rashness and negligence in undertaking the treatment so as to attract Section 304A, IPC.
Supreme Court of India
Kusum Sharma & Ors vs Batra Hospital &Med.Research ... on 10 February, 2010
While deciding whether the medical professional is guilty of medical negligence following well known principles must be kept in view:-
I. Negligence is the breach of a duty exercised by omission to do something which a reasonable man, guided by those considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs, would do, or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would not do.
II. Negligence is an essential ingredient of the offence. The negligence to be established by the prosecution must be culpable or gross and not the negligence merely based upon an error of judgment.
III. The medical professional is expected to bring a reasonable degree of skill and knowledge and must exercise a reasonable degree of care. Neither the very highest nor a very low degree of care and competence judged in the light of the particular circumstances of each case is what the law requires.
IV. A medical practitioner would be liable only where his conduct fell below that of the
standards of a reasonably competent practitioner in his field.
V. In the realm of diagnosis and treatment there is scope for genuine difference of opinion and one professional doctor is clearly not negligent merely because his conclusion differs from that of other professional doctor.
VI. The medical professional is often called upon to adopt a procedure which involves higher element of risk, but which he honestly believes as providing greater chances of success for the patient rather than a procedure involving lesser risk but higher chances of failure. Just because a professional looking to the gravity of illness has taken higher element of risk to redeem the patient out of his/her suffering which did not yield the desired result may not amount to negligence.
VII. Negligence cannot be attributed to a doctor so long as he performs his duties with reasonable skill and competence. Merely because the doctor chooses one course of action in preference to the other one available, he would not be liable if the course of action chosen by him was acceptable to the medical profession. VIII. It would not be conducive to the efficiency of the medical profession if no Doctor could administer medicine without a halter round his neck.
IX. It is our bounden duty and obligation of the civil society to ensure that the medical professionals are not unnecessary harassed or humiliated so that they can perform their professional duties without fear and apprehension.
X. The medical practitioners at times also have to be saved from such a class of complainants who use criminal process as a tool for pressurizing the medical professionals/hospitals particularly private hospitals or clinics for extracting uncalled for compensation. Such malicious proceedings deserve to be discarded against the medical practitioners.
XI. The medical professionals are entitled to get protection so long as they perform their duties with reasonable skill and competence and in the interest of the patients. The interest and welfare of the patients have to be paramount for the medical professionals.
In R v. Yogasa Karan  1 NZLR 399, the New Zealand Court opined that the hospital is in a better position to disclose what care was taken or what medicine was administered to the patient. It is the duty of the hospital to satisfy that there was no lack of care or diligence. The hospitals are institutions, people expect better and efficient service, if the hospital fails to discharge their duties through their doctors, being employed on job basis or employed on contract basis, it is the hospital which has to justify and not impleading a particular doctor will not absolve the hospital of its responsibilities. [See also Errors, Medicine and the Law, Alan Merry and Alexander McCall Smith, 2001 ed., Cambridge University Press, p.12] It is generally expected that very senior doctors would behave responsibly, and they were entitled to take any defence which is available to them but they should not resort to mudslinging. This being a case where both sides being doctors, fair dealings were expected from them.
Supreme Court of India
Malay Kumar Ganguly vs Sukumar Mukherjee & Ors on 7 August, 2009
CUMULATIVE EFFECT OF NEGLIGENCE A patient would feel the deficiency in service having regard to the cumulative effect of negligence of all concerned. Negligence on the part of each of the treating doctors as also the hospital may have been contributing factors to the ultimate death of the patient. But, then in a case of this nature, the court must deal with the consequences the patient faced keeping in view the cumulative effect.
In the instant case, negligent action has been noticed with respect to more than one respondent. A cumulative incidence, therefore, has led to the death of the patient. It is to be noted that doctrine of cumulative effect is not available in criminal law. The complexities involved in the instant case as also differing nature of negligence exercised by various actors, make it very difficult to distil individual extent of negligence with respect to each of the respondent. In such a scenario finding of medical negligence under section 304-A cannot be objectively determined.
Martin F. D'Souza v. Mohd. Ishfaq (2009) 3 SCC 1
Supreme Court noted broadly the precautions which ought to be taken, and the same are reproduced herein below:
“Precautions which doctors/hospitals/nursing homes should take:
Current practices, infrastructure, paramedical and other staff, hygiene, and sterility should be observed strictly. Thus, in Sarwat Ali Khan v. Prof. R. Gogi (OP No. 181 of 1997 decided on July 18, 2007 [NC]) the facts were that out of 52 cataract operations performed between September 26, 1995, and September 28, 1995, in an eye hospital, 14 persons lost their vision in the operated eye. An enquiry revealed that in the operation theater, two autoclaves were not working properly. This equipment is absolutely necessary to carry out sterilization of instruments, cotton, pads, linen, etc., and the damage occurred because of its absence in working condition. The doctors were held liable
No prescription should ordinarily be given without actual examination. The tendency to give prescription over the telephone, except in an acute emergency, should be avoided
A doctor should not merely go by the version of the patient regarding his symptoms but should also make his own analysis including tests and investigations where necessary
A doctor should not experiment unless necessary and even then he should ordinarily get a written consent from the patient
An expert should be consulted in case of any doubt. Thus, in Indrani Bhattacharjee (OP No. 233 of 1996 decided on 9-8-2007 [NC]), the patient was diagnosed as having 'mild lateral wall ischemia.’ The doctor prescribed medicine for gastroenteritis but he expired. It was held that the doctor was negligent as he should have advised consulting a cardiologist in writing
Full record of the diagnosis, treatment, etc., should be maintained.”
The above are in the nature of broad advisory.
Jacob Mathew v. State of Punjab (2005) 6 SCC 1
Keeping in the view the rise in criminal prosecution of doctors, which is both embarrassing and harassing for them, and to protect them from frivolous and unjust prosecutions Supreme Court laid certain binding guidelines till statutory rules or instructions by the government in consultation with MCI are issued, which are as follows:
Private complaint may not be entertained unless the complainant has produced prima facie evidence in the court in the form of a credible opinion given by another competent doctor
Investigation officer should obtain an independent and competent medical opinion preferably from a doctor in government service qualified in that branch of medical practice who can normally be expected to give an impartial and unbiased opinion applying Bolam test to the facts collected in the investigation
Doctor may not be arrested in a routine manner unless the arrest is necessary for furthering the investigation or for collecting the evidence or if the investigation officer is satisfied that doctor may flee.
The necessity for obtaining independent medical opinion was insisted upon considering that the knowledge of medical science to determine whether the acts of medical professional amounts to negligent act within the domain of criminal law could not be presumed. This requirement was subsequently sought to be made a necessity by the Supreme Court even for initiating the action seeking imposition of civil penalties but was done away with thereafter for civil action