Doctors & their Services Come under Consumer Act

The Supreme Court (SC) upheld a Bombay High Court judgment which held that doctors and healthcare services are not excluded from the ambit of the Consumer Protection Act 2019, in a Special Leave Petition Medicos Legal Action Group v Union of India delivered on 29 April 2022.

The Bombay High Court’s judgment delivered in October 2021 dismissed the plea that consumer complaints can’t be filed against doctors under the Consumer Protection Act 2019. The Bombay High Court held that there was not much difference between the definition of services under the 1986 Act and the 2019 Act. Health care was not expressly mentioned in the definition of services under the 1986 Act as well.

The SC pointed out that in Indian Medical Association v VP Shantha & Ors [(1995) 6 SCC 651] the SC held that health care services are covered under the 1986 Act. The definition of service in both the enactments (repealed and new) are more or less similar and what has been said of service as defined in section 2(1)(o) of the 1986 Act would apply of its own force to the definition of the terms service in section 2(42) of the 2019 Act. The services rendered to a patient by a medical practitioner by way of consultation, diagnosis and treatment, both medical and surgical, would fall within the ambit of service as defined under Section 2(1)(o) of the Act, 1986. Therefore, the SC held that services rendered by doctors in lieu of fees/charges therefor are within the purview of the 2019 Act.

The Kerala High Court has also ruled Dr Vijil & Ors v Ambujakshi T.P & Anr. that medical services fall within the purview of the term ‘service’ defined under Section 2(42) of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, while dismissing a case filed by a group of doctors. The doctors wanted the High Court of Kerala to declare that the consumer fora under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 do not have jurisdiction to take cognizance of complaints in respect of medical negligence and deficiency in medical service. The words “but not limited to” appearing in Section 2(42) clarifies the intention of the Parliament and the medical services would indeed fall within the ambit of Section 2(42), unless the service is free of charge or is under a contract of personal service. The HC pointed out that although the Act of 1986 was substituted by the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, both, Section 2(42) of the 2019 Act and Section 2(1)(o) of 1986 Act have almost the same meaning and implications.

The Kerala HC held that a reading of the inclusive part in Section 2(42) would show that the Parliament intended to specifically underline that some public utility services like Banking, Financing, Insurance, Transport, etc., would come within the purview of services. The definition is inclusive and not exhaustive. Therefore, all services which are made available to potential users would fall under Section 2(42), except those services rendered free of charge or under a contract of personal service.

Additional reading

  1. Consumer Protection Act 1986
  2. Consumer Protection Act 2019