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Apr 28, 2008

Medical Malpractice Defined

- failure of a physician to apply to his practice of medicine that degree of care and skill which is ordinarily employed by the profession generally, under similar conditions, and in like surrounding circumstances

Reyes vs. Sisters of Mercy Hospital, G.R. No. 130547, Oct. 3, 2000

CONCEPT:

Petitioner’s action is for medical malpractice. This is a particular form of negligence which consists in the failure of a physician or surgeon to apply to his practice of medicine that degree of care and skill which is ordinarily employed by the profession generally, under similar conditions, and in like surrounding circumstances. In order to successfully pursue such a claim, a patient must prove that the physician or surgeon either failed to do something which a reasonably prudent physician or surgeon would have done, or that he or she did something that a reasonably prudent physician or surgeon would not have done, and that the failure or action caused injury to the patient. There are thus four elements involved in medical negligence cases, namely: duty, breach, injury, and proximate causation.

Elements of Medical Malpractice
  1. duty – the existence of a physician-patient relationship
  2. breach of duty
  3. injury caused
  4. causal connection between the breach of duty and the injury caused

Evidentiary Rule

TWO-PRONGED EVIDENCE:
  1. evidence of the recognized standards
  2. the physician negligently departed from these standards

EXPERT TESTIMONY ESSENTIAL:

In the present case, there is no doubt that a physician-patient relationship existed between respondent doctors and Jorge Reyes. Respondents were thus duty-bound to use at least the same level of care that any reasonably competent doctor would use to treat a condition under the same circumstances. It is breach of this duty which constitutes actionable malpractice. As to this aspect of medical malpractice, the determination of the reasonable level of care and the breach thereof, expert testimony is essential. Inasmuch as the causes of the injuries involved in malpractice actions are determinable only in the light of scientific knowledge, it has been recognized that expert testimony is usually necessary to support the conclusion as to causation. (Reyes vs. Sisters of Mercy Hospital, supra)

EXCEPTION:

There is a case when expert testimony may be dispensed with, and that is under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. As held in Ramos v. Court of Appeals:

Although generally, expert medical testimony is relied upon in malpractice suits to prove that a physician has done a negligent act or that he has deviated from the standard medical procedure, when the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor is availed by the plaintiff, the need for expert medical testimony is dispensed with because the injury itself provides the proof of negligence. The reason is that the general rule on the necessity of expert testimony applies only to such matters clearly within the domain of medical science, and not to matters that are within the common knowledge of mankind which may be testified to by anyone familiar with the facts. Ordinarily, only physicians and surgeons of skill and experience are competent to testify as to whether a patient has been treated or operated upon with a reasonable degree of skill and care. However, testimony as to the statements and acts of physicians and surgeons, external appearances, and manifest conditions which are observable by any one may be given by non-expert witnesses. Hence, in cases where the res ipsa loquitur is applicable, the court is permitted to find a physician negligent upon proper proof of injury to the patient, without the aid of expert testimony, where the court from its fund of common knowledge can determine the proper standard of care. Where common knowledge and experience teach that a resulting injury would not have occurred to the patient if due care had been exercised, an inference of negligence may be drawn giving rise to an application of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur without medical evidence, which is ordinarily required to show not only what occurred but how and why it occurred. When the doctrine is appropriate, all that the patient must do is prove a nexus between the particular act or omission complained of and the injury sustained while under the custody and management of the defendant without need to produce expert medical testimony to establish the standard of care. Resort to res ipsa loquitor is allowed because there is no other way, under usual and ordinary conditions, by which the patient can obtain redress for injury suffered by him. (Reyes vs. Sisters of Mercy Hospital, supra)

Standard of Diligence Required

- the standard of care in the locality (“Locality” Rule)
- a physician is not liable for error in judgment (“Error in Judgment” Rule), provided he applied reasonable skill and care

STANDARD OF DILIGENCE REQUIRED:

Indeed, the standard contemplated is not what is actually the average merit among all known practitioners from the best to the worst and from the most to the least experienced, but the reasonable average merit among the ordinarily good physicians.

STANDARD IS NOT EXTRAORDINARY DILIGENCE:

The standard of extraordinary diligence is peculiar to common carriers. The Civil Code provides: "Art. 1733. Common carriers, from the nature of their business and for reasons of public policy, are bound to observe extraordinary diligence in the vigilance over the goods and for the safety of the passengers transported by them, according to the circumstances of each case. . . ."

The practice of medicine is a profession engaged in only by qualified individuals. It is a right earned through years of education, training, and by first obtaining a license from the state through professional board examinations. Such license may, at any time and for cause, be revoked by the government. In addition to state regulation, the conduct of doctors is also strictly governed by the Hippocratic Oath, an ancient code of discipline and ethical rules which doctors have imposed upon themselves in recognition and acceptance of their great responsibility to society. Given these safeguards, there is no need to expressly require of doctors the observance of “extraordinary” diligence. As it is now, the practice of medicine is already conditioned upon the highest degree of diligence. And, as we have already noted, the standard contemplated for doctors is simply the reasonable average merit among ordinarily good physicians. That is reasonable diligence for doctors or, as the Court of Appeals called it, the reasonable “skill and competence . . . that a physician in the same or similar locality . . . should apply.” (Reyes vs. Sisters of Mercy Hospital, supra)

Responsibility of the Hospital

Ramos vs. CA, G.R. No. 124354, Dec. 29, 1999

RESPONSIBILITY OF THE HOSPITAL:

The unique practice (among private hospitals) of filling up specialist staff with attending and visiting "consultants," who are allegedly not hospital employees, presents problems in apportioning responsibility for negligence in medical malpractice cases. However, the difficulty is only more apparent than real.

In the first place, hospitals exercise significant control in the hiring and firing of consultants and in the conduct of their work within the hospital premises. Doctors who apply for "consultant" slots, visiting or attending, are required to submit proof of completion of residency, their educational qualifications; generally, evidence of accreditation by the appropriate board (diplomate), evidence of fellowship in most cases, and references. These requirements are carefully scrutinized by members of the hospital administration or by a review committee set up by the hospital who either accept or reject the application. This is particularly true with respondent hospital.

After a physician is accepted, either as a visiting or attending consultant, he is normally required to attend clinico-pathological conferences, conduct bedside rounds for clerks, interns and residents, moderate grand rounds and patient audits and perform other tasks and responsibilities, for the privilege of being able to maintain a clinic in the hospital, and/or for the privilege of admitting patients into the hospital. In addition to these, the physician's performance as a specialist is generally evaluated by a peer review committee on the basis of mortality and morbidity statistics, and feedback from patients, nurses, interns and residents. A consultant remiss in his duties, or a consultant who regularly falls short of the minimum standards acceptable to the hospital or its peer review committee, is normally politely terminated.

In other words, private hospitals, hire, fire and exercise real control over their attending and visiting "consultant" staff. While "consultants" are not, technically employees, a point which respondent hospital asserts in denying all responsibility for the patient's condition, the control exercised, the hiring, and the right to terminate consultants all fulfill the important hallmarks of an employer-employee relationship, with the exception of the payment of wages. In assessing whether such a relationship in fact exists, the control test is determining. Accordingly, on the basis of the foregoing, we rule that for the purpose of allocating responsibility in medical negligence cases, an employer-employee relationship in effect exists between hospitals and their attending and visiting physicians. This being the case, the question now arises as to whether or not respondent hospital is solidarily liable with respondent doctors for petitioner's condition.

1 comments:

freddyb45 said...

Wow this is a really informative blog post. I've been doing some research about medical negligence cases for a while now and this will really help me. Has anyone used Irwin Mitchell for a compensation claim? My friend has contracted a rather serious spinal injury and is looking for good legal advice.

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