Res Ipsa Loquitur

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The doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitur is one of the most popular doctrines applicable in our jurisdiction such that many have probably heard of it from lawyers or during drinking sessions. It is one of the numerous latin terms a law student encounters in the course of studying law. We are not certain though if this doctrine is properly used or understood according to how our courts apply it. This doctrine is usually used in negligence cases such as those filed against doctors by their patients just like in the case of Jarcia vs. People which was decided by the Supreme Court on 15 February 2012.

Negligence of Doctors

This is a very simple case. The victim was hit by a taxicab necessitating his hospitalization. The physician who attended to the victim no longer examined the upper leg since they determined that the injury was just on the ankle. The victim was discharged from the hospital but a few days later his upper leg swelled and there was misalignment on his right foot. X-ray reveled a “right mid-tibial fracture and a linear hairline fracture in the shaft of the bone” (G.R. 187926). After some investigation and a finding of probable cause, the prosecutor filed a criminal case for Simple Imprudence Resulting to Serious Physical Injuries against Drs. Jarcia, Bastan, and Pamittan. After trial, the court found them guilty and sentenced them to suffer imprisonment for one month and one day to two months and to indemnify the victim the amount of Php. 3,850.00 for medical expenses. The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision and the doctors appealed to the Supreme Court claiming that the lower courts erred and that they should be acquitted.

Acquitted but Liable

The Supreme Court explained: “This doctrine of res ipsa loquitur means “Where the thing which causes injury is shown to be under the management of the defendant, and the accident is such as in the ordinary course of things does not happen if those who have the management use proper care, it affords reasonable evidence, in the absence of an explanation by the defendant, that the accident arose from want of care.” This doctrine however does not apply in this case because the victim’s “injury and the series of tests that were supposed to be undergone by him to determine the extent of the injury suffered were not under the exclusive control of Drs. Jarcia and Bastan. It was established that they are mere residents of the Manila Doctors Hospital at that time who attended to the victim at the emergency room.” Although the Court said that the totality of the evidence points to the negligence of the doctors, it is not enough to establish their criminal liability. The Court however, found the defendants civilly liable for violating the Code of Medical Conduct.

“Established medical procedures and practices, though in constant instability, are devised for the purpose of preventing complications. In this case, the petitioners failed to observe the most prudent medical procedure under the circumstances to prevent the complications suffered by a child of tender age.” The accused were all acquitted but ordered to pay actual, moral, exemplary damages and the cost of the suit.

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