Case Summary: Jacob Mathew vs. State of Punjab


Title of the Case: Jacob Mathew v. State of Punjab

Bench: CJI R.C. Lahoti, G.P. Mathur & P.K. Balasubramanyan

Citation: AIR2005SC3180; (2005)6SCC1; 2005CriLJ3710

Date of Judgment:    05-08-2005


Petitioner- Dr. Jacob Mathew

Respondent- State of Punjab

 Brief Facts: A patient named Jiwan Lal was admitted to a private ward in CMC Hospital, Ludhiana. At 11 pm of the date 22-02-1995, the patient suddenly had difficulty in breathing. His elder son, Vijay Sharma called the nurse and doctor after seeing his father’s condition. No doctor turned up for about 20-25 minutes. After that, Dr. Jacob Mathew and Dr. Allen Joseph came to the room for the patient. The patient was immediately connected with an oxygen cylinder to his mouth but the problem increased nevertheless. Apparently, the oxygen cylinder was found to be empty and no other oxygen cylinder was available. Vijay Sharma went to the adjoining room and brought another gas cylinder. In the midst of this, around 5-7 minutes were wasted. During this, the doctor confirmed that the patient is dead. The younger son, Ashok Kumar Sharma filed a First Information Report (FIR) under Section 304A read with Section 34 of the IPC.

(Section 304A of IPC- Causing death by negligence.)

(Section 34 of IPC- Common intention for criminal activity, all people included to be held liable)

Procedural History: According to Dr. Jacob Mathew, the patient was already suffering from the advanced staged of cancer. The family was consulted to keep the patient at their home and given proper nursing and solace. But the sons, being some influential persons having occupied position in Government, requested the hospital to keep the patient under their care. Although the given advice, the patient was admitted to the hospital.

Issues :

(1) Is there a difference between civil and criminal law in the concept of Negligence?

(2) Is there a test to determine the negligence level through which it will be decided whether the doctor is held liable for the negligence or not?

Arguments raised by the Petitioner:

No professional doctor would try to hurt their patient as it is their responsibility to cure and heal the patient as their reputation is on stake. A single failure may cost them a huge impact on their career. Even in civil jurisdiction, the rule of res ipsa loquitur (the matter speaks for itself) 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. A medical practitioner takes full responsibility of the patient and hence does not gain anything out of the negligence or the omission caused. If so, the practitioner is charged with criminal charges. Accidents that happened during the course are unintentional and unforeseen.

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Reverting back to the facts of the case before us, we are satisfied that all the averments made in the complaint, even if held to be proved, do not make out a case of criminal rashness or negligence on the part of accused-appellant. 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 cause 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 304-A of IPC on the parameters of Bolam’s test.

(Bolam’s Test: It is the test carried out to determine whether a doctor or a medical practitioner has breached his duty regarding the care of the patient. The Bolam Test was established from the case of Bolam v Friern Hospital Management Committee, 1957)

Hence, the appeals are quashed. The prosecution of the accused-appellant under Section 304A/34 is quashed.


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