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Opinion

Legal basis of a hospital’s liability for doctors’ negligence

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez - The Freeman

The Supreme Court is the peoples’ last bastion of justice, when victimized by either the fault or the negligence of medical service providers. In several cases, victims of medical malpractice and doctors’ gross incompetence have been awarded millions by way of damages for the mental anguish, serious anxieties, wounded feelings, and sleepless nights brought about by death of loved ones in the reckless hands of imprudent doctors in some uncaring hospitals.

I am not referring to the death of anyone due to COVID, but if there is ample evidence that some doctors have been remiss in their professional duties, then they should be brought to court. If their reckless negligence is proven by preponderance of evidence by a court of competent jurisdiction, then they may end up paying millions to the heirs of their victims. If lawyers can be disbarred, doctors can also be deprived of their licenses if only to save the public and future patients from their ineptitude and carelessness. Lawyers’ grave errors may result in the conviction of their innocent clients. But when doctors commit serious mistakes, their patients end up six feet below the ground. The hospital where they work may also be held solidarily liable.

These are not my words. The Supreme Court said so in an array of cases. In RP Nogales vs. CMC, et al (GR 142625) decided on December 19, 2006, the highest court of the land held: “Dr. E’s negligence in handling the treatment and management of Corazon’s condition which ultimately resulted in Corazon’s death is no longer in issue. Dr. E did not appeal the decision of the Court of Appeals which affirmed the ruling of the trial court finding Dr. E solely liable for damages.” The Supreme Court agreed with the appeal of the victim to hold the hospital liable too. Cited as Article 2180 of the Civil Code whereby it is provided that one is not only liable for wrongful act of its own but also for the acts of people working under him.

The highest court of the land found the hospital liable on the basis of a long-standing legal doctrine in civil law and in torts and damages. The court said: “Under the doctrine of apparent authority, a hospital can be held vicariously liable for the negligent acts of a physician providing care at the hospital, regardless of whether the physician is an independent contractor, unless the patient knows.” This has been discussed in my previous columns that were triggered by the Garcia Family’s sincere efforts to seek a meeting with the doctors to discuss the circumstances of the deaths of their brothers Nelson and Marlon, former mayors of Dumanjug and Barili, respectively. Without making a prejudgment, we are saying that the family of the deceased is entitled to be enlightened, otherwise they seek redress from other sources of reliefs.

Even if the family of the patients signed a release document, this is not going to free the hospital. The court succinctly held: “When a person needing urgent medical attention rushes to a hospital, he cannot bargain on equal footing with the hospital on the terms of admission and operation. Such a person is literally at the mercy of the hospital. There can be no clearer example of a contract of adhesion, than one arising from such a dire situation. Thus the release forms of CMC cannot relieve CMC from liability for the negligent medical treatment of Corazon. The court awarded the family actual and moral damages with legal interests.

It is high time that we, the poor patients, should assert our rights and not allow any shade of incompetence and negligence to ruin our health, safety, and life itself. We are paying too much for medical services. It is just right and proper that we demand the excellence in care that we deserve. Or, else, we may have to run to the courts for protection and redress.

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SUPREME COURT

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