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Executive Summary

The Consumer Protection Act, 1986, provides protection of the interests of consumers.  The Act brings within its ambit the services of the medical profession and treats patients as consumers of such services.  For expeditious disposal of complaints of negligence or deficiency in service, a consumer may file a complaint in a District Forum for recovery of damages.  Appeals from the District Forum may be filed before the State Commission and then before the National Commission.  Decisions of the latter are appealable to the Supreme Court.

The Consumer Protection Act, 1986[1]

The Consumer Protection Act (the Act) seeks to better protect the interests of consumers and for that purpose, establishes consumer councils and other authorities for the settlement of consumer disputes.  In addition to providing protection against defective goods sold in the market, the Act protects consumers against deficient or negligent services provided by physicians.  The services of the medical profession became subject to adjudication for damages under the consumer protection law in 1995,[2] when the court ruled that the services provided to a patient by a physician are also contractual and not merely of a personal nature. 

The Act establishes consumer councils at the national, state, and district levels.  The objective of the council is to promote and protect the rights of the consumers.[3]  The Act establishes Consumer Dispute Redressal Agencies at the national, state and district levels for the adjudication of consumer disputes.[4]  The pecuniary jurisdiction of a district forum is limited to 2 million Indian rupees (approximately US$40,000), while that of a state commission may not exceed ten million Indian rupees (approximately US$210,549).  The district forum consists of a person who is qualified to be a District Judge, and two other members.  

Complaints for redress of a grievance against the supply of defective goods or the negligent service of a professional may be filed at the district level.  Any person aggrieved by a decision of the district forum may appeal its decision within a period of thirty days to the State Commission.[5]  The State Commission must consist of at least three members, one of whom is or has been a Judge of a High Court.  Decisions of the State Commission are appealable to the National Commission.[6]  

The National Commission must consist of at least five members, one of whom must have been a Judge of the Supreme Court, and at least one member must be a woman.  In addition to its jurisdiction as an appellate forum from decisions of a state commission, the National Commission has original jurisdiction where the claimed amount exceeds ten million Indian rupees(approximately US$210,549).  Appeals of decisions of the National Commission are made to the Supreme Court of India.[7

After the expiration of the period for filing an appeal, the decision of any forum or commission, if no appeal is filed, is final.  Each forum or commission, notwithstanding the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, exercises the powers of a Judicial Magistrate of the First Class for the trial of offenses under this Act.  The provisions of the 1986 Act are in addition to and not in derogation of any other law for the time being in force.[8

Alternate Remedies

Law of Torts

The law of torts takes over where the protection of the Consumer Protection Act ends.  Resort to the law of torts enables recovery, and provides a remedy even where a physician provides free service.  Therefore, where the services offered by the doctor or hospital do not fall within the ambit of “service” as defined in the Act, patients may rely on the law relating to negligence under the law of torts and successfully claim compensation.

Criminal Liability

A criminal complaint may be filed against a physician alleging commission of rash and negligent acts causing death.[9]  The burden of proof is on the patient is to prove that the physician was grossly negligent.

Conclusion

In the very nature of the profession, physicians are vulnerable to liability under civil and criminal law.  The consumer law in India enables patients to obtain a quicker recovery of damages than traditional tort law, as the action under a civil lawsuit is lengthy and time consuming.  Moreover, the provisions of the consumer protection law are in addition to and not in derogation of other laws.

For more information on India see:

Prepared by Krishan S. Nehra,
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
May 2009

  1. The Consumer Protection Act, No. 68 of 1986. [Back to Text]
  2. Indian Medical Association v. V.P. Shantha, A.I.R. 1996 S.C. 550. [Back to Text]
  3. The Consumer Protection Act, No. 68 of 1986, §§4-8B. [Back to Text]
  4. Id. §§ 9-10. [Back to Text]
  5. Id. § 15. [Back to Text]
  6. Id. § 19. [Back to Text]
  7. Id. § 23. [Back to Text]
  8. Id. § 3. [Back to Text]
  9. The Indian Penal Code, Act 45 of 1860, § 304A, Suresh Gupta v. Govt. of NCT of Delhi, 2004 (6) SCC 422. [Back to Text]

Last Updated: 02/28/2014