Civil Appeals No. 688 of 1993 with No. 689 of 1993, W.P (C) No. 16 of 1994, C. As Nos. 4664-65 and 254 of 1994, 10039, 10081 and 10052-80 of 1995, decided on Nov 13, 1995
1996 AIR 550, 1995 SCC (6) 651
Justices Kuldip Singh, S.C. Agrawal, B.L. Hansaria, JJ.
The Consumer Protection Act, 1986, Indian Medical Council Act, 1956; Specific Relief Act, Companies Act, 1956; Motor Vehicles Act.
These appeals, special leave petitions and the Writ Petition raise a common question i.e., whether and, if so, in what circumstances a medical practitioner can be regarded as rendering ‘service’ under Section 2(1)(o) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. Connected with this question is the question whether the service rendered at a hospital/nursing home can be regarded as ‘service’ under Section 2(1)(o) of the Act. These questions have been considered by various High Courts as well as by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC).
Issues before the Court
Whether the services of a medical practitioner can be considered as ‘services’ under Consumer Protection Act, 1986?
Whether hospitals and doctors come in the ambit of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986?
Ratio of the Case
NCDRC’s order decreed that the doctor – patient relationship is a contract for personal service and it is not master – servant relationship. A 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 Consumer Protection Act.
The deficiency in service means only negligence in a medical negligence case and it would be determined under Consumer Protection Act, by applying the same test as is applied in an action for damages for negligence in a civil court.
Decision of the Court
The 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:
- All medical / dental practitioners doing independent medical / dental practice unless rendering only free service.
- Private hospitals charging all patients.
- All hospitals having free as well as paying patients and all the paying and free category patients receiving treatment in such hospitals.
- 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 excuses only those hospitals and the medical / dental practitioners of such hospitals which offer free service to all patients.
As a consequence of this judgment, effectively 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 charged under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.
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