Respondentshad not been blessed with a child despite several years of marriage. They thus consulted petitioneran obstetrician-gynecologist-consultant at the St. Lukes Medical Center where she was, at the time material to the case, the chief of the Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Section. Upon Dr. Ilao-Oretas advice, Eva Marie agreed to undergo a laparoscopic procedure whereby a laparascope would be inserted through the patients abdominal wall to get a direct view of her internal reproductive organ in order to determine the real cause of her infertility.
The procedure was scheduled on April 5, 1999 at 2:00 p.m., to be performed by Dr. Ilao-Oreta. At around 7:00 a.m. of said date, Eva Marie, accompanied by her husband Noel, checked in at the St. Lukes Medical Center and underwent pre-operative procedures including the administration of intravenous fluid and enema. However, Dr. Ilao-Oreta did not arrive at the scheduled time for the procedure, and no prior notice of its cancellation was received. It turned out that the doctor was on a return flight from Hawaii to, and arrived at 10:00 p.m. of April 5, 1999 in, Manila.
The Ronquillo spouses filed a complaint against Dr. Ilao-Oreta and the St. Lukes Medical Center for breach of professional and service contract and for damages before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Batangas City. They prayed for the award of actual damages including alleged loss of income of Noel while accompanying his wife to the hospital, moral damages, exemplary damages, the costs of litigation, attorneys fees, and other available reliefs and remedies. In her answer, petitioner explained that she was on her honeymoon but believed in her utmost good fait that she would be back in time for the operation, failing to consider the time difference between in Hawaii and the Philippines. On the other hand, St. Luke’s contended that the spouses have no cause of action against it since it performed the pre-operative procedures without delay, and any cause of action they have would be against Dr. Ilao-Oreta. RTC and CA ruled in favor for the petitioner.
Whether or not petitioner is guilty of gross negligence.
No. Gross negligence implies a want or absence of or failure to exercise slight care or diligence, or the entire absence of care. It evinces a thoughtless disregard of consequences without exerting any effort to avoid them.It is characterized by want of even slight care, acting or omitting to act in a situation where there is a duty to act, not inadvertently but willfully and intentionally with a conscious indifference to consequences in so far as other persons may be affected. In this case, the records show that before leaving for Hawaii, Dr. Ilao-Oreta left an admitting order with her secretary for one of the spouses to pick up, apprised Eva Marie of the necessary preparations for the procedure, and instructed the hospital staff to perform pre-operative treatments and on realizing that she missed the scheduled procedure, Dr. Ilao-Oreta, upon arrival in Manila, immediately sought to rectify the same.These acts of the doctor reflect an earnest intention to perform the procedure on the day and time scheduled.
Although petitioner failed to take into consideration the time difference between the Philippines and Hawaii, the situation then did not present any clear and apparent harm or injury that even a careless person may perceive. Unlike in situations where the Supreme Court had found gross negligence to exist, petitioner could not have been conscious of any foreseeable danger that may occur since she actually believed that she would make it to the operation that was elective in nature, the only purpose of which was to determine the real cause of infertility and not to treat and cure a life threatening disease. Thus, in merely fixing the date of her appointment with respondent Eva Marie Ronquillo, petitioner was not in the pursuit or performance of conduct which any ordinary person may deem to probably and naturally result in injury.
It bears noting that when she was scheduling the date of her performance of the procedure, Dr. Ilao-Oreta had just gotten married and was preparing for her honeymoon, and it is of common human knowledge that excitement attends its preparations. Her negligence could then be partly attributed to human frailty which rules out its characterization as gross.
WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The decision appealed from is MODIFIED in that
1) the award to respondents-spouses Noel and Eva Marie Ronquillo of actual damages is REDUCED to P2,288.70, to bear interest at a rate of 6% per annum from the time of the filing of the complaint on May 18, 1999 and, upon finality of this judgment, at the rate of 12% per annum until satisfaction; and
2.The award of moral and exemplary damages and attorneys fees is DELETED.