A Pune district court, in an order dated September 26, 2019, has asked a man to pay Rs 1 crore as defamation charges to Aditya Birla Memorial Hospital in Pune along with the outstanding bill amount of Rs.3,89,795, with 18% annual rate of interest. The ruling was made in a case dating back to 2013.
In the case registered on March 23, 2013, the complainant, Aditya Birla Health Services Limited accused one Tejinder Singh Ahluwalia of not only fleeing away from the premises without paying for the treatment he underwent in the hospital but also defaming the hospital by circulating defamatory contents in the newspaper against the hospital.
The Pune District Court in its judgement has ordered Tejinder Singh Ahluwalia to clear all the remaining dues to Aditya Birla Memorial Hospital and moreover slapped a fine on him, as the court believed that “due to the said act of the defendant (Tejinder Singh Ahluwalia), the plaintiff (Aditya Birla Hospital) not only suffered mental agony but harm has been caused to their reputation”. It also ordered that Ahluwalia needs to pay interest at the rate of 18 per cent per annum on the total amount from the date of filing of the suit till its realisation.
The order read: ‘that the plaintiff hospital being a public institute needs to maintained standard regarding its equipment to provide better services to the public at large. Therefore, if the defendant had paid entire medical treatment charges within time then the plaintiff hospital would have invested said amount to develop the hospital as well as to provide better facilities to its patient. Therefore, I hold that the interest @ 18% over the amount of Rs.1,03,89,795/ claimed by the plaintiff is not exorbitant’.
On January 4, 2013, one Tejinder Singh Ahluwalia was admitted to Aditya Birla Memorial Hospital in Chinchwad, Pune, with a complaint of retrosternal chest pain, left arm pain and back pain with profuse sweating. The hospital had performed coronary Angiography on him which had revealed 100% blockage in one artery and 50% in another. As a treatment of the condition, an angioplasty procedure was conducted and a drug-eluting stent (DES) was placed in his blocked artery.
Ahluwalia’s attendants had deposited a sum of Rs.40,000 during admission and he was required to be discharged on payment of an outstanding bill of Rs 3,89,795, as the total bill was 4,29,795. Miffed by the hefty bill, Ahluwalia had left the premises without settling the hospital bill.
Ahluwalia later held a press conference where he accused the hospital of forcing his wife to sign the consent form and then overcharging him for angiography tests and the subsequent angioplasty procedure. He had also claimed that the hospital security guards beat him up after he protested against the ‘inflated bill’ and the surgery.
He had then divulged that the hospital at first suggested an angiography. After he was administered medicines and fell unconscious, the authorities approached his wife Balbir Kaur and told her that her husband’s condition was serious as there was 100 per cent blockage in his artery and that there was an immediate need for an angioplasty procedure. They also told her that a stent should be installed in the artery through angioplasty.
“Since I was unconscious, the hospital authorities started pestering her to sign the consent papers saying that I had a cardiac arrest and could fall prey to another heart attack anytime. Shocked with the news, my wife told the hospital authorities and doctors that she wanted to shift me to N M Wadia hospital. The hospital authorities refused her request saying that I was serious and the process of shifting would put my life at risk,” claimed Ahluwalia.
He also said that the doctors and the administration staff told his wife to give in writing that the hospital would not be responsible if anything happened to the patient while shifting him from the hospital. “She fell prey to the pestering and signed the consent papers”, claimed Ahluwalia.
On January 8, 2013, while giving discharge, the hospital presented him a bill of Rs 4,29,795 which according to him was exorbitant. “I protested and offered to pay part of the bill, but the security personnel assaulted me with batons and I sustained bruise marks to both my arms,” said Ahluwalia.
Ahluwalia then ran away from the hospital after hospital authorities refused to accept the part payment of Rs 2 lakh that the patient was offering.
After he ran away, hospital authorities approached the Hinjewadi police station and filed a written complaint against Ahluwalia.
The hospital authorities had refuted the allegations and claimed that the patient’s condition was critical and surgery was essential to save his life. The medical facility even accused the patient of assaulting the hospital security guard while escaping from the hospital premise without paying the bill of around Rs 4.30 lakh.
Chief Executive Officer of the hospital Rekha Dubey claimed that when the bill was generated, Ahluwalia took a U-turn and refused to pay the bill and in a bid to run away from the premises, he assaulted one of the security personnel wherein he bruised his fingers, said Dubey.
When a media reporter had then asked Dubey to show the medical reports of Ahluwalia, she had refused, stating that the reports are confidential and cannot be divulged. Moreover, when a request was put to meet the security guard who was assaulted, Dubey said she does not have any idea where he is. The name of the guard too was not revealed.
The court order notes that all the reports along with photographs of treatment of the defendant have been proved by the hospital. The judgement says, “the documents filed on record clearly reveals that the doctors of plaintiff has performed operation and the defendant without paying the entire treatment charges left the hospital.” The judge also said that unchallenged testimonies of witnesses and documents placed on record proved that an amount of Rs.3,89,795 is due and outstanding against the hospital by Ahluwalia.
The judgement further agreed that articles published in the media were defamatory. “These articles undisputedly caused mental agony and harm to the reputation of plaintiff and its office bearers”, the judge notes. Therefore, Ahluwalia has been asked to pay Rs 1 crore towards defamation. With 18% annual interest since January 2013, the total due would be around Rs.2.80 crores.
The full judgement can be read below: