Do District and State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions do not have jurisdiction to take cognisance of medical negligence complaints? Ker HC analyses

Kerala High Court

Kerala High Court: N. Nagaresh, J., decided whether medical service would fall within the ambit of Section 2(42) of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 unless of course the service is free of charge or is under a contract of personal service.

Background

Doctors practising Modern Medicine in Kannur filed the present petition seeking to quash the orders of District and State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions, as sans jurisdiction and hence illegal.

They sought to declare that the Consumer Fora under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 does not have jurisdiction to take cognizance of complaints in respect of medical negligence and deficiency in medical service as a medical profession and practice and practice does not come within the purview of term ‘service’ defined under Section 2(42) of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.

Contention

Senior Counsel assisted by the counsel for the petitioners argued that the medical service/practice is not included in the illustrations in the inclusive definition of the term ‘service’ under Section 2(42) of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 and hence the intention of the Parliament is clear that the Parliament did not want to include medical services/profession within the purview of the term ‘service’. The learned Senior Counsel pointed out that the Draft Bill of the new Consumer Protection Act, 2019 had included health sector among the illustrations of facilities that are treated as ‘service’ in Section 2(42) of the new Act. However, the health sector was removed from among the illustrations under Section 2(42). The obvious reason is that the lawmakers intended to exclude medical service/profession from the purview of the new Act.

Analysis

High Court noted the argument of the petitioners that a complaint in respect of medical negligence or deficiency in medical service was not maintainable before the District or State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission for the reason that Section 2(42) of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 does not take within its ambit the medical profession/medical services.

Supreme Court’s decision in Indian Medical Association v. V.P. Shantha, (1995) 6 SCC 651, considered the question whether medical negligence/deficiency in the medical services would fall within the ambit of ‘service’ and it was held that the services rendered to a patient by a medical practitioner by way of consultation, diagnosis and treatment, both medical and surgical would fall within the ambit of ‘service’ as defined under Section 2(1)(o) of the Act, 1986.

The Act, 1986 was substituted by the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, wherein the term ‘service’ is defined under Section 2(42).

Further, it was added that both Sections 2(42) of the Act, 2019 and Section 2(1)(o) of the Act, 1986 more or less have the same meaning and implications. The only difference is that Section 2)42) of the Act, 2019 is more descriptive and takes specifically in the banking, financing, insurance, transport, processing supply of electrical or other energy, telecom, boarding or lodging or both, housing construction, entertainment, amusement or the purveying of news or other information.

High Court opined that Section 2(42) of the Act would show that the Parliament intended to specifically underline that, certain services like Banking, Financing, Insurance, transport, etc., which are in the nature of public utility services, would come within the purview of services.

The said definition is inclusive and not exhaustive. Therefore, all services which are made available to potential users would fall under Section 2(42), except those services rendered free of charge or under a contract of personal service. The words “but not limited to” appearing in Section 2(42) clarifies the intention of the Parliament.

Hence,

Medical services therefore would indeed fall within the ambit of Section 2(42), unless of course the service is free of charge or is under a contract of personal service.

Bench added that, the District Commission considered the issue of maintainability of the complaint and noted that there was no difference to the meaning of ‘service’ in the old Act and the new Act. Therefore, District Commission rejected the objections as to the maintainability of the complaint.

Even the State Commission held that since no conscious change in the definition of “service” was made in the new Act, the petitioner’s contention that Health Sector had been deliberately excluded by the Parliament while enacting the new law, could not be accepted.

High Court dismissed the petition in view of the above. [Dr Vijil v. Ambujakshi T.P., 2022 SCC OnLine Ker 863, decided on 10-2-2022]


Advocates before the Court:

For the Petitioners:

By Advocates:

GOPAKUMARAN NAIR (SR.)

SOORAJ T.ELENJICKAL

RENOY VINCENT

ARUN ROY

HELEN P.A.

SHAHIR SHOWKATH ALI

For the Respondents:

By Advocates:

SRI.MANU S, ASGI

SRI.V.GIREESH KUMAR, CGC

One comment

  • […] The Kerala High Court in Dr Vijil v. Ambujakshi T.P observed that The Act, 1986 was substituted by the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, wherein the term ‘service’ is defined under Section 2(42). Sections 2(42) of the Act, 2019 and Section 2(1)(o) of the Act, 1986 more or less have the same meaning and implications. The only difference is that Section 2(42) of the Act, 2019 is more descriptive and takes specifically in the banking, financing, insurance, transport, processing supply of electrical or other energy, telecom, boarding or lodging or both, housing construction, entertainment, amusement or the purveying of news or other information. High Court opined that Section 2(42) of the Act would show that the Parliament intended to specifically underline that, certain services like Banking, Financing, Insurance, transport, etc., which are in the nature of public utility services, would come within the purview of services. The said definition is inclusive and not exhaustive. Therefore, all services which are made available to potential users would fall under Section 2(42), except those services rendered free of charge or under a contract of personal service. The words “but not limited to” appearing in Section 2(42) clarify the intention of the Parliament. Hence, Medical services therefore would indeed fall within the ambit of Section 2(42), unless of course the service is free of charge or is under a contract of personal service. [v]   […]

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