Issuing a ‘fit-to-fly’ certificate almost crashes doctor’s reputation

  • Posted on: April 06, 2023

A senior scientist, NRI from California, visited India for a long-awaited family reunion. He experienced blurred vision in the left eye during his stay and thus consulted an ophthalmologist. The doctor diagnosed retinal detachment and advised vitrectomy.

The procedure was performed with proper consent, and the post-operative period was uneventful. Two weeks thereafter, the patient flew back to California after obtaining a fit-to-fly certificate from doctor. And that’s when the troubles began.

The patient experienced pain and extreme discomfort in the operated eye. He rushed to a retina consultant as soon as the plane landed in California.

The patient had suffered central retinal artery occlusion due to increased intraocular pressure (IOP) while flying, and underwent scleral buckling procedure.

The scientist in patient formulated a heavy set of reasons to sue the ophthalmologist, and claimed a whopping compensation of eight crore rupees! His defining equation against the doctor though, was issuance of fit-to-fly certificate in spite of the fact that flying could cause IOP.

He also presented emails to prove that the doctor was negligent.

Surprisingly, in one of the emails, the doctor had offered to refund expenses incurred for the procedure.

The doctor, of course, refuted these allegations. It was stated that the patient was given a fit-to-fly certificate with an advice to consult a retina specialist before flying – an advice which he did not follow. It was further stated that the refund offered was a goodwill gesture as the patient was referred by a senior professor.

This case took about three to four years to reach the National Consumer Commission.

The Commission perused medical records of the clinic in California and observed that patient’s vision was 20/20 in both eyes, which was perfect vision. The Commission further observed that the patient suppressed this fact and drew an adverse inference against him.

Finally, it was observed that although the doctor agreed to pay compensation in email exchanges, it neither proved his negligence nor justified the compensation demand of eight crore rupees.

The patient’s case was dismissed.

There is an important learning for doctors from this case – do not give anything in writing under duress. Seek legal remedy immediately.

Source: Order pronounced by National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission on 5th December, 2022.