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I Lost My Mother to Medical Negligence: Here’s How I Won a Court Battle Against the Doctor

In 2016, Shilpa Datla lost her mother to cancer due to medical negligence. Instead of staying quiet, she moved the court against the doctor. She shares five ways to fight a legal battle in medical negligence cases.

I Lost My Mother to Medical Negligence: Here’s How I Won a Court Battle Against the Doctor

Trigger Warning: Mentions of death and suffering

By the age of 48, Durga Devi had experienced menopause. The initial six months went by but subsequently, she observed spotting. As it’s unusual to bleed from the vagina after menopause, she immediately went to see a gynaecologist.

To understand the cause, the Hyderabad resident sought out a renowned gynaecologist working with Rainbow Hospital. As per the checkups, there was no need to worry. However, she kept experiencing irregular spotting and this continued for about three years.

“Every time she went to that doctor, she said there was no need to worry. But postmenopausal bleeding is a red flag,” her daughter Shilpa Datla tells The Better India.

“One day, she went to an oncologist for a regular breast checkup. There, she informed her about the spotting and showed her gynaec’s report. The doctor was a little shocked and questioned us on why our gynaecologist did not suggest a hysterectomy [that could lower the risk of cancer],” she adds.

Durga Devi kept experiencing irregular spotting and this continued for about three years.
Durga Devi kept experiencing irregular spotting and this continued for about three years.

On the oncologist’s advice, Durga Devi underwent a hysterectomy and when the specimen was sent for biopsy, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. This came as a shock to the family who relied on the gynaecologist’s treatment.

Shilpa further informs, “We went for radiation but we found out that she had developed multiple tumours. Her urinary tract and rectum were blocked by tumours. Because of this, she was throwing up everything. It was terrible. She had to undergo another surgery which lasted for 14 hours. They had to take out her urinary tract and rectum. She was given two external pouches.”

Owing to the intense suffering, Durga could survive only for about six months after the procedure. In January 2016, she breathed her last at the age of 52.

Why families must question medical negligence

A month after mourning the loss of her mother, Shilpa decided to file a case against the gynaecologist for her medical negligence.

Shilpa moved to the court to get justice for her mother.
Shilpa moved to the court to get justice for her mother.

“We were suggested for hysterectomy wherever we took her reports. The doctors even questioned the gynaecologist’s abilities and pointed out that it was unnecessary to take such a risk given unusual spotting after menopause. If she would have done a simple hysterectomy, my amma would have been alive,” says the 40-year-old.

“I saw her suffer. She ended up with a painful death. Nobody should go through that pain. For the doctor, she was just one of the other patients. But she was my mother. Her one mistake cost my mother her life. I felt it was not right on the part of the doctor to take these things lightly. It was unfair,” she adds.

While filling the case invited resistance from her family members, fighting the legal battle against a renowned doctor came with its own set of challenges.

“We needed to present statements of gynaecologists in the court. For this, I went to a lot of gynaecologists in the city but none of them came forward to help me. Everyone admitted that it was a case of negligence, but not in front of the court. This was when we referred to a World Health Organization report that mentioned postmenopausal bleeding was an early sign of cancer,” she says.

About seven years after filing the case, Shilpa finally won the legal battle against the doctor mid-this year.

Meanwhile, Shilpa claims she was also offered an out-court settlement. “But of course, we refused because the battle was not about money. It was about the loss of life. We were fighting for justice for my mother,” she adds.

In January 2016, Durga Devi breathed her last at the age of 52.
In January 2016, Durga Devi breathed her last at the age of 52.

In its statement, the court had imposed a Rs 12 lakh penalty on the doctor. “They were supposed to pay the penalty in two months. But she has not taken even this seriously,” says Shilpa, who is still seeking an apology from the doctor.

“But the accountability from the court means a lot to people like me. I understand that doctors get many patients but every life is important and precious. They need to be careful about each patient because we go to them with a lot of trust, and they are not doing it for free. With this judgement, doctors will understand that laws are strict and they cannot be just reckless about a life,” she adds.

While Shilpa could move to the court for her mother, there could be many people who lost their loved ones to medical negligence but chose to remain quiet.

“I have received so many grievance calls, but people stay quiet. You don’t need to be. Do not just blindly trust the doctor, you have a right to question them. Many people do not raise their voices believing it to be fate and choose to move on,” says Shilpa. 

“My father also did not want me to go to the court. It is considered a big taboo given the taxing paperwork and back and forth to the courts. But I could simply not consider my mother’s death to be fate. She was just 52!” she adds.

Shilpa was also advised to remain quiet given long legal proceedings and responsibilities of her children.
Shilpa was also advised to remain quiet given the long legal proceedings and responsibilities of her children.

To guide people with similar concerns, Shilpa shares five ways to prepare for a legal battle based on her experiences:

Be Determined: Shilpa says fighting a legal case requires a lot of patience and determination. “Initially, everybody scared me. They reminded me how long legal proceedings could go and I have the responsibility of raising two children. Also, there was no certainty that I would win the case, so I just moved on. But I could never forget the pain that my mother went through. This always motivated me to fight for her,” she says.

Find a good lawyer: Shilpa points out that legal proceedings could mean shelling out a lot of money but one needs to find a trustworthy lawyer who would stand by you irrespective of the challenging circumstances.

Understand the case properly: Shilpa advises that one needs to have a clear understanding of the case. “You’d be asked about the case multiple times, and you’d be reliving the pain multiple times. It is going to be a tedious process. But you need to know the facts that caused the negligence so that you can prove it. Dig a little deeper into the information,” she adds.

Check similar cases: Although Shilpa did not have any previous examples of cases against doctors, she advises people should reach out to similar cases as they could give better guidance based on their experiences.

Getting justice is a tedious journey: It is not unknown that legal battles can be cumbersome and time-consuming. “I doubted if we’ll get justice in eight years. Legal proceedings can go on for years. It is both a mental and physical effort but you have to be persistent,” she says.

Edited by Pranita Bhat; All photos: Shilpa Datla.

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