DEATH BY NEGLIGENCE: SECTION 304A OF INDIAN PENAL CODE

Section 304A of Indian Penal Code states that whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years or with fine or with both.

The section 304A was inserted in the code in 1870. This was added for cases where there is no intention or no knowledge to cause death but in all probable cases, death is caused.

Essentials of negligence

· There must be an absence of intention and violence.

· There must be a direct result of negligence act.

Negligence is not just mere carelessness. It should of such nature that it can be termed a criminal act. Section 80 states nothing is an offence which is done by accident or misfortune, and without any criminal intention or knowledge in the doing of a lawful act in a lawful manner by lawful means and with proper care and caution. In this section, it is the absence of such care and precaution which a reasonable man should have in committing an act, which is made punishable under section 304A.


Cherubin Gregory v/s State of Bihar AIR 1964 SC 205

The victim’s lantern was broken, due to which she could not use her toilet. Therefore, she was using her neighbour’s toilet for about a week. The accused repeatedly warned her not to use her toilet. Therefore, one day she put an uninsulated wire around toilet. The woman (victim) came and were electrocuted as a result of which she died at the spot. The neighbour was charged under section 304A. For her negligent action, the woman lost her life.

Absence of Intention and Violence

The very essence of section 304A is that the act that resulted in the death of the person should not be done intentionally. If the act is intentional and voluntary or the person has knowledge that such act is likely to cause death then it will fall under culpable homicide.


Sarabjeet Singh vs State of UP AIR 1983 SC 529

In this case, sarabjeet Singh and few others were put on a trial for committing the murder of a 4-year-old child Radhey Shyam. The accused have come to attack one of the members of the opposite party. The child came running, accused instead of attacking the members, caught hold of the child and threw him on the ground that resulted in his death. The accused claimed that his act was negligent under 304A.

In this case, though the accused didn’t have the intention to kill the child he did had knowledge that such action may cause death. The court ruled out that his claim was not negligent as he has the intention to hold the child and threw him/her no ground instantly killing him. The accused was convicted under culpable homicide.


Negligence in Driving

A person driving a vehicle is expected to be always in control of the vehicle in such a manner as to prevent hitting any other vehicle or pedestrian.


Baldevji vs state of Gujrat AIR 1979 SC 1327

In this case, a car had run over a man which resulted in his death. The deceased was crossing the road and the accused without attempting to save him as there was sufficient space on the other side ran over him. He was convicted under section 304A for rash and negligent driving.

Dulichand vs Delhi Administration, AIR 1975 SC 1960

Bus going on a normal speed reached a crossroad and negligently hit the deceased who was coming from the right. Due to the direct result of negligence, the victim died.

If a person dies on the way to the hospital, this will also come under the direct results of the negligent act.


Death must be a direct result

It is essential that death must be the causa causans – the immediate cause of the rash or negligent act committed by the accused.


Suleman Rahman Mulam vs State of Maharashtra AIR 1968 SC 829

The person hit another person while driving his vehicle. He then took him to the hospital where he died. Instead of informing anyone, he cremated the deceased in order to hide the incident. It was held by the trial court that the person would be charged under section 304A.

However, the Supreme Court held that there was no evidence of rash negligent driving so he was acquitted of all charges, as there was a lack of witness and evidence.


Medical negligence

When the duty of care is not taken, then the doctor will be held liable for negligence. The standard of negligence is of such extent that caused the death of a person. This must be proved.

It should not be a mere lack of skill necessary care or attention to draw the charges of negligence.

In the case of medical negligence, the standard of negligence is required to be proved so high so as to amount to gross negligence.


Dr. Suresh Gupta vs Government of NCT Delhi

The patient was admitted for plastic surgery for correcting her nasal deformity. After the operation, the patient suffered from heart pain due to which she died. Mere error in judgement will not hold the doctor criminally liable under sec 304A.


Sushil Ansal vs State through CBI 2014 SCC 173

49 people were dead because of the smoke that released due to the fire that erupted in the basement of a cinema hall. This could have been prevented had the people not created any commotion. The accused was held liable under section 304A.


PUNISHMENT

It is a cognizable, bailable, non-compoundable offence. According to section 304A, a person who is held liable for causing death by negligence will be punished for 2-year imprisonment or will be fined or will be punished with both depending upon the seriousness of the crime.


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