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The Hindu
4 June 2009
New Delhi, India

The Supreme Court has held that transfusion of wrong blood group to a patient amounted to medical negligence.

A Bench consisting of Justices D.K. Jain and R.M. Lodha said: ”The law takes no cognisance of carelessness in the abstract. It concerns itself with carelessness only where there is a duty to take care and where failure in that duty has caused damage. In such circumstances carelessness assumes the legal quality of negligence and entails the consequences in law of negligence.”

The Bench upheld compensation of Rs. 2 lakh ordered by the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and confirmed by the National Commission to the husband and children of a woman who died due to transfusion of wrong blood group at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh.

Writing the judgment, Justice Lodha said that ”with regard to professional negligence, it is now well settled that a professional may be held liable for negligence if 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 Bench said ”It is equally well settled that the standard to be applied for judging, whether the person charged has been negligent or not, would be that of an ordinary person exercising skill in that profession. It is not necessary for every professional to possess the highest level of expertise in that branch which he practises.”

In the instant case Harjit Kaur was admitted to the PGIMER on April 19, 1996 for treatment of burn injuries. On May 15, she was transfused with A+ blood which was her blood group.

However during the second blood transfusion on May 20, she was transfused with B+ blood group, instead of A+. Her condition started deteriorating and it transpired that due to transfusion of mismatched blood, the kidney and liver got damaged. She died on July 1, 1996.

On a complaint from her husband Jaspal Singh, the State Commission held that the death was due to medical negligence and awarded Rs. 2 lakh compensation. On appeal by the PGIMER, the National Commission confirmed the award and the present appeal by the Institute was against that order.
The appellant contended that Harjit Kaur died of septicemia and not by mismatched blood transfusion and sought quashing of the National Commission’s order.

Appeal Dismissed
Dismissing the appeal and upholding the award with Rs. 20,000 costs, the Bench said: ”Although she [Mrs. Kaur] survived for about 40 days after mismatched blood transfusion it cannot be said that there was no causal link between the mismatched transfusion of blood and her death. Wrong blood transfusion is an error which no hospital/doctor exercising ordinary care would have made. Such an error is not an error of professional judgment but in the very nature of things a sure instance of medical negligence. The hospital’s breach of duty in mismatched blood transfusion contributed to her death, if not wholly, but surely materially. Mismatched blood transfusion to a patient having sustained 50 per cent burns by itself speaks of negligence.”

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