A Big lesson for consumers

06/07/2016 15:00

“Good advice is always certain to be ignored, but that’s no reason not to give it”. ―Agatha Christie

In life, the least expected things happen at least expected time. Ashok Lal, a salesman in his mid-50s experienced something similar in his life three years ago, which haunts him even today. And, there is much to learn from his experiences and story.

Lal was diagnosed with fever and sore throat and was admitted in a private hospital in 2012. The doctor on duty prescribed Betadine gargle, a mouth solution but the attending nurse gave him “Betadine skin solution” i.e. iodine to gargle which led to various medical complications as he ended up ingesting some.

After the ill-fated incident, his condition deteriorated.  Lal suffered skin irritation, hyper-pigment muscular rashes all over his face, neck region and complained of dizziness, headache and faced problem with his eye sight. He got admitted in the hospital on 02 May for fever/sore throat but because of this wrong medication, he remained in the hospital up until 17 May when he was finally discharged.

Lal’s close family member contacted the Council the day this incident happened to seek advice on medical negligence. The Council promptly instructed the family member to lodge a complaint so that the Council could investigate the matter. The Council also advised that Lal should not sign any document without consulting the Council or his lawyers.

But Lal decided otherwise. He did not lodge a complaint with the Council. Instead, he signed a Deed of Settlement and Release with the hospital authorities in the presence of his wife and a cousin, who happens to be a medical practitioner. Based on the Deed of Settlement, the hospital authorities waived all medical charges accrued by Lal arising from his stay in the hospital as a ‘full and final’ settlement of all his claims against the hospital authorities.

What’s more shocking is that Lal signed the Deed of Settlement and Release without reading the document and not knowing what he was signing for. Neither he nor his wife, who was a witness to the deal, viewed the document before signing. Lal claims that the hospital authorities had promised to compensate him for all his suffering (pain and financial loss) but the Deed of Settlement and Release had no such clause.

A peculiar bit about this Deed of Settlement and Release is though it carries Lal and his wife’s signature together with the hospital representative’s signature, none of the pages are initialled as required by law. Also strange was the last page of this document which carried signatures only while other pages had the clauses of this agreement.

The Deed of Settlement and Release is a two-pager document which has clauses, such as:

“Mr………was administered a first dose of Betadine gargle and ingested without supervision, two additional doses. As a result of this, Mr……. developed a mild to moderate allergic skin reaction which he claims is partially due to hospital (incident). As a result of the incident and without admitting any fault, the hospital has agreed to Mr…………. request for a waiver of his medical fees in the interest of resolving any potential disputes”;

“The Deed of Settlement shall be an absolute bar to any claims, demands, actions, suits and proceedings that have been threatened or may   hereafter be threatened or commenced by or through Mr……………. of whatsoever nature in respect of any and all losses, damage, liabilities and rights directly or indirectly arising out of or relating to the claim”.

Lal’s case has lessons for all the consumers. Being a victim of medical negligence, he was fooled by the private hospital simply because Lal trusted the hospital officials that they will be honest. Because of this trust, he failed to read the document or seek an independent advice. Lal was furnished with sets of advices (some from his relatives and friends and an independent advice from the Consumer watchdog). With all the promises made by the hospital, he, however, chose to ignore the independent advice, and went ahead signing a document, leading to a ‘miscarriage of justice’.

This is a classic case which reflects the importance of taking prudent steps to deal with an uncertain situation like this when faced by consumers. What should consumers do in such situations?

Consumers should insist for a copy of the Agreement to read or to obtain second opinion either from the Consumer Council or from the solicitors. Consumers should refuse to sign such documents particularly when going through pain and discomfort. There is no rush. First priority is to feel better.

If consumers have read and understood the Agreement and decide to sign then they must initial each and every page and not just the last page that requires your signature. Consumers should get the original version of the document and not a photocopied version.

Consumers have much to learn from Lal’s ordeal – that is the importance of reading the document before signing and putting your initial or your signature on each and every page.  

Next week, read the outcome of his case when he took the matter to the High Court for justice.