Medical practitioners i.e. doctors play a vital role in case of motor accidents. In situations where a person meets with an accident, it is the duty of a doctor in charge of the hospital where such injured person is taken to, to treat and provide the requisite treatments to such person.
Every living being has four basic requirements - eat, sleep, mate and defend. Humans, in order to fulfill these requirements, also have a requirement for transportation. In this contemporary world growing at an accelerated rate, minimization of transportation time is of utmost importance. But this minimization is often obtained at the expense of more exposure to risk. The risk of unsafe travel. Take an example of a motor vehicle. Beyond the speed limits, the probability of the vehicle entering into unsafe driving mode increases exponentially. This risk often manifests itself in the form of damage. Damage that is inflicted upon life and property.
Damage to property may be recovered with time, but damage to life is a matter of grave concern. It must be of utmost priority to control and mitigate the damages caused to life, especially when the damages caused are of such a nature and such a degree that even a slight delay may cause a permanent loss of life, a loss which cannot be recovered. In order to mitigate and control such damage, immediate services of experts in the medical profession are desperately needed. However, it is sometimes observed that these medical experts, the messengers, guardians and protectors of life often shirk from this divine responsibility, mostly on the ground of fear and ignorance regarding proper laws at place. Therefore, it is of utmost necessity that the medical professionals are made aware of their role when such damage to life occurs in real life and understand the point of view of law over such matter.
An element of this damage is a motor accident. Black’s law dictionary defines the term “accident” as “an unintended and unforeseen injurious occurrence”. Further, section 2 (28) of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 defines the term motor vehicle as “any mechanically propelled vehicle adapted for use upon roads whether the power of propulsion is transmitted thereto from an external or internal source and includes a chassis to which a body has not been attached and a trailer; but does not include a vehicle running upon fixed rails or a vehicle of a special type adapted for use only in a factory or in any other enclosed premises or a vehicle having less than four wheels fitted with engine capacity of not exceeding twenty-five cubic centimetres”. When reading the two definitions together, this roughly implies that any means of transport that can move on a road when enters into an unintended and unforeseen injurious occurrence will constitute a motor vehicle accident. Such accidents are more clearly defined by Section 161 of the act as “hit and run motor accidents”. Section 161 defines “hit and run motor accident” as “an accident arising out of the use of a motor vehicle or motor vehicles the identity whereof cannot be ascertained in spite of reasonable efforts for the purpose”.
It is important to note that Section 134(a) of the Act states that “it shall be the duty of every registered medical practitioner or the doctor on the duty in the hospital immediately to attend to the injured person and render medical aid or treatment without waiting for any procedural formalities” thereby fixing a mandate upon medical professionals to take steps to save a life without much concern about the procedural formalities at that point of time. The object of the law to provide its highest regard to the life of an individual was also supported by the landmark judgement in the seminal case of Parmanand Katarav. Union of India (1989) where the Medical Council of India had placed on record a copy of the Code of Medical Ethicsstating that “there is no prohibition in law for the doctors to act in such a fashion. On the other hand, it is an integral part of the professional ethics to start treating the patient as soon as he is brought before the doctor for medical attention as it is the paramount obligation of the doctor to save human life and bring the patient out of the risk zone at the earliest with a view to preserving life”. It was held by the honourable Supreme Court that by proceeding in his/ her duty to treat the injured victim on his appearance before him/ her either by himself/ herself or being carried by others, a doctor does not violate any law. It was also held that “law courts will not summon a medical professional to give evidence unless the evidence is necessary and even if he/ she is summoned, attempt should be made to see that the people in this profession are not made to wait and waste time unnecessarily and it is known that our law courts always have respect for the people in the medical profession and they are called to give evidence when necessary and attempts will be made so that they may not have to wait for long”.
Supreme Court in its landmark judgement of Dr.Laxman Balkrishna Joshi v. Dr.Trimbark Bapu Godbole and Anr. (1968) reinforced by A.S.Mittalv. State of U.P. (1989) has made its position on the duties of a medical professional when approached by a patient reasonably clear. The doctor owes a duty of care regarding the decision which is to be made like on taking up the case, type of treatment and the manner of administration of such treatment. A breach of duties in these situations may enable a patient to seek damages from the concerned doctor. However, when all the aforementioned judgements are read together, it can be inferred that a medical professional must not deny a case involving motor accident merely out of fear of harassment that might be inflicted upon him by the justice system.
Since the law of the land made by the legislators is further reinforced by the Supreme Court itself, the medical professional should not let the fear of law to restrict them in extending immediate help in such cases fearing that he would be harassed by the police or dragged to court unnecessarily.