Consumer Protection Act, 2019 is a special legislation enacted to protect the rights of consumers and therefore, only certain class of cases can be adjudicated under the provisions of this Act. The Act provides that a complaint can be filed, inter alia, for deficiency in services. The term “service” has been defined under the Act.
Consumer Protection Act, 1986 did not include the word “healthcare” with the definition of the term “service”. However, the Supreme Court in Indian Medical Association vs. V.P. Santha & Ors., AIR 1996 SC 550 held that the language used in the Act was wide enough to cover the services rendered by the doctors as well.
Therefore, even before 2019 Act, health/medical services were covered within the Act and therefore cases of medical negligence could be filed before Consumer Forums
It is important to note that in the year 2018, the government introduced a draft consumer protection bill in which the term “service” included the services in connection with the healthcare sector. But this bill was not passed by both the Houses of Parliament. Subsequently, the word “healthcare” was removed from the new bill introduced in the year 2019 which was finally notified as Consumer Protection Act, 2019
The question about the applicability of the newly enacted Consumer Protection Act, 2019 to the health services was considered by the Kerala High Court in Dr Vijil & Ors v. Ambujakshi T.P & Anr., 2022 LiveLaw (Ker) 107. It was argued by the doctors that the exclusion of the word “healthcare” from the definition of “service” shows the intention of the Parliament to specifically exclude medical services from the ambit of the Act. The court, however, was not convinced with this argument and observed that external aid like draft bill can be used for interpreting a provision only when there is an ambiguity in the express provisions of the law. The court observed that the definition of “service” is clear and is devoid of any ambiguity.
The same position was reiterated by the Bombay High Court in a public interest litigation titled Medicos Legal Action Group vs. Union of India. The Bombay High Court order was challenged before the Supreme Court but the Supreme Court refused to interfere with the high court’s order.
The current legal position is that the consumer complaints relating to medical services, including medical negligence, can be filed before the Consumer Forums. However, if such services are availed free of charge, then the complaint cannot be filed before Consumer Forums.
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