Hospital sends dead body to wrong family: Supreme Court moved after NCDRC reduces compensation to deceased person's family

In 2009, the children of one, Puroshothaman were shocked to find that his dead body had already been released by the EMC to another family and that he had been cremated before the hospital realised their error.
Hospital sends dead body to wrong family: Supreme Court moved after NCDRC reduces compensation to deceased person's family
Ernakulam Medical CentreImage courtesy: EMC website

A dispute over a Kerala-based hospital's gaffe in releasing a dead body to the wrong family, thereby depriving the deceased man's family the opportunity to see him a last time and conduct his final rites, has reached the Supreme Court (PR Jayasree and anr v. Ernakulam Medical Centre and anr).

The family moved the Supreme Court after the compensation payable to them on account of the hospital's error was cut down by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (National Commission) .

A Supreme Court Bench comprising of Justices RF Nariman and Navin Sinha on Monday stayed the National Commission's order, while issuing notice.

In 2009, the children of one Puroshothaman were shocked to find that his dead body had already been released by the Ernakulam Medical Centre (EMC) to another family and that he had been cremated before the hospital realised their error.

The hospital, it was submitted, attempted to release the dead body of another man, PA Kantha instead to Puroshothaman's children, while Kantha's family had mistakenly cremated Puroshothaman.

Upon moving the Kerala State Consumer Forum, Puroshothaman's family was awarded Rs 25 lakh as compensation for the hospital's negligence. On an appeal being moved by the hospital, however, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum reduced the compensation payable to the family from Rs 25 lakh to Rs 5 lakh.

Interestingly, the National Commission is also stated to have directed EMC to pay a substantial sum of Rs 25 lakhs to the Consumer Legal Aid Account of the State Commission "without any reason or basis."

This order has now been challenged by Purushothaman's family, on various grounds including the following:

  • While the National Commission passed the operative portion of this order in July 2019, it took over seven months to issue the Commission's reasoned judgment in March 2020.

  • The order was passed by a Bench comprising of only two technical members, while the complex questions of law in the dispute warranted the inclusion of a judicial member on the Bench.

  • No reasons have been provided for assigning a sum of Rs 25 lakhs to the State Consumer Forum's Legal Aid Account, particularly when a meagre compensation of Rs 5 lakhs was awarded to the petitioners who are the aggrieved parties directly affected by the negligent acts of the hospital.

  • The award of only Rs 5 lakhs compensation is unjust and inequitable as it fails to consider the gravity of mental, and physical pain, suffering and trauma undergone by the Petitioners on account of having lost the opportunity to perform last rites of their father in accordance with Hindu rites and customs, of which cremation is an integral part.

  • No clear assessment has been made of the admitted negligence on the part of the hospital, despite gross negligence being an admitted fact.

  • The National Commission proceeded on unsubstantiated and legally unsound facts to state that it was only two daughters, out of the four children of the deceased, who had attempted to make a fortune out of the situation where a stranger had claimed the body of the deceased bonafide. This observation by the Commission was totally uncalled for, without any basis and insensitive.

  • The National Commission's order suffers from a non-application of mind.

Senior Advocate V Chitambaresh and Advocates A Karthik (AOR), C Govind Venugopal and Anushka Pardikar appeared for the petitioners before the Supreme Court.

[Read order]

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