The Supreme Court restored Rs 5 lakh compensation awarded by the district consumer forum in a medical negligence case, citing misapplication of the ‘eggshell skull’ legal principle by the state and central consumer forums. 

About ‘Eggshell Skull’ Rule

  • It’s a common law principle in civil litigation, that holds that the defendant is responsible for all injuries, regardless of the victim’s vulnerability. 
  • This means that the defendant would be held responsible for injuries caused to a person when he hit him on the head, even if the victim had a particularly delicate skull or an ‘eggshell’ for a skull.  
  • The rule is applied for claiming an enhanced compensation for damages beyond what would typically be expected. 
  • Its origins are often traced back to the 1891 Vosburg v. Putney case in Wisconsin, US, where an injury was aggravated due to a kick. 
  • Subsequently, the rule, also known as the ‘thin skull rule,’ has been applied in various cases to ensure accountability for unforeseen consequences.

Legal dispute about it 

  • In 2005, Jyoti Devi underwent an appendix removal surgery at a hospital in Himachal Pradesh’s Mandi district. 
  • Despite the surgery going as planned, she continued to experience abdominal pain. 
  • After multiple hospital visits over four years, doctors discovered a 2.5 cm foreign body (needle) left in her abdomen, which needed to be surgically removed. 
  • Jyoti sought compensation from the district consumer forum, which initially awarded her Rs 5 lakhs for medical negligence by the Mandi hospital. 
  • However, the hospital’s appeal led to the state consumer forum reducing the compensation to Rs 1 lakh. 
  • The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) later increased it to Rs 2 lakh.
  • The case was eventually brought before the Supreme Court, which reinstated the district forum’s decision on compensation. 
  • The SC criticized the other two courts for awarding a “paltry” and “unjust” sum, despite applying the eggshell skull rule.

The Supreme Court verdict 

  • The Supreme Court determined that the eggshell skull rule did not apply in Jyoti’s case as there was no evidence of a pre-existing vulnerability or medical condition leading to unusual damage. 
  • The Court observed that the NCDRC merely referenced the rule without explaining its relevance to the case.
  • The judgment highlighted two key factors warranting increased compensation to Jyoti –  she had suffered pain for over five years, and the case remained unresolved for more than a decade.

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