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Chandigarh SCDRC : Hospital cannot hold dead body of patient in lieu of settlement of fees

Terms the act as unethical, barbaric, inhuman, torturous and heinous for the public

Chandigarh : The Chandigarh State Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission has held Fortis Hospital negligent for holding the dead body of a patient for non-payment of dues. The Commission observed that a hospital cannot hostage the dead body of a patient for recovery of any bonafide and legally enforceable debt due towards the patient or the patient legal heirs. The Commission added that there were other remedies available to the hospital for the recovery of its dues from the patient. The Commission observed that the deficiency in providing service, in-humanatarian attitude and adoption of unfair trade practice by the Fortis hospital was not only illegal but also squarely unethical, barbaric, inhuman, torturous and heinous for the public at large.

In this case, the deceased patient was a beneficiary of the Central Government Health Scheme (CGHS) and was admitted in Fortis for surgery. The patient died during the surgery and a bill of Rs. 2,05,067/- was raised by the hospital which was payable through CGHS. The hospital raised Rs.58,931/- and demanded the patients kin to pay it in lieu of high-end antibiotics used due to the incidental finding of malignancy. The hospital refused to release the body of the patient till Rs.58,931/- was not paid. The patient’s son issued a cheque of Rs.58,931/- to the hospital and got the body of his father released from the hospital. On realizing that the hospital was not entitled to demand any money as per CGHS rules the patient’s son stopped the payment of the cheque. The hospital then filed a criminal complaint against the patient’s son under section 138 for not honoring the cheque. However the hospital withdrew the complaint after the patient’s son made the payment to the hospital. Subsequently, the patient’s wife and son filed a compliant against the hospital as they argued that the hospital bill raised to them was illegal.

The District Consumer Court accepted the allegation of the patient’s kin and held the hospital negligent for raising the bills over the package rates offered to CGHS. The District Consumer Court offered compensation of Rs.50,000 plus Rs.58,931 that was paid to the hospital. Aggreived by the order of District Consumer Court both parties approached the State Consumer Court. The State Consumer Court held the hospital not only negligent but also inhuman and adopting unfair trade practice. The State Consumer Court held the hospital negligent and deficient in service on two counts. Firstly the patient was to be charged as per the CGHS package but the hospital charged the patient’s kin Rs.58,931/- which amounts to unfair trade practice. The second count was more severe and the State Consumer Court held that raising the bill which the hospital and thereafter retaining the dead body of the patient and shifting it to mortuary instead of handing over to the patient’s kin was unethical, barbaric, inhuman, torturous and heinous for the public at large. The State Consumer Court enhanced the compensation amount to Rs. 4 Lakhs and Rs.35,000 as cost of litigation to be paid by the hospital to patient’s kin.

Legal PrescriptionThe hospital cannot charge above the package it has offered to patient directly or through any scheme for treatment of the patientWhen the hospital detects incidental findings not covered in the package the same should be conveyed to the patient along with the extra charges for the treatment of incidental findingsThe hospital should take written consent from the patient that the extra charges not covered in the package will be paid by themThe hospital cannot retain the dead body for the payment of its bill and should hand over the body of the patients to their kins even if the treatment bills of the patient remain unpaidThe hospital should file a civil suit for recovery of its unpaid bills from the dead patient’s legal heirs