Natividad Agana was rushed to the Medical City Hospital because of difficulty of bowel movement and bloody anal discharge. Dr. Miguel Ampil, diagnosed her to be suffering from “cancer of the sigmoid.” Dr. Ampil, assisted by the medical staff of the Medical City Hospital, performed an anterior resection surgery on Natividad. He found that the malignancy in her sigmoid area had spread on her left ovary, necessitating the removal of certain portions of it. Thus, Dr. Ampil obtained the consent of Natividad’s husband, Enrique Agana, to permit Dr. Juan Fuentes, to perform hysterectomy on her.
After Dr. Fuentes had completed the hysterectomy, Dr. Ampil took over, completed the operation and closed the incision. However, the operation appeared to be flawed. After a couple of days, Natividad complained of excruciating pain in her anal region. She consulted both Dr. Ampil and Dr. Fuentes about it. They told her that the pain was the natural consequence of the surgery.
Two weeks after Natividad returned from the United States to seek further treatment, her daughter found a piece of gauze protruding from her vagina. Upon being informed about it, Dr. Ampil proceeded to her house where he managed to extract by hand a piece of gauze measuring 1.5 inches in width. He then assured her that the pains would soon vanish.
Dr. Ampil’s assurance did not come true. Instead, the pains intensified, prompting Natividad to seek treatment at the Polymedic General Hospital. While confined there, Dr. Ramon Gutierrez detected the presence of another foreign object in her vagina — a foul-smelling gauze measuring 1.5 inches in width which badly infected her vaginal vault. A recto-vaginal fistula had formed in her reproductive organs which forced stool to excrete through the vagina. Another surgical operation was needed to remedy the damage.
Natividad and her husband filed with the RTC a complaint for damages against the Professional Services, Inc. (PSI), owner of the Medical City Hospital, Dr. Ampil, and Dr. Fuentes. They alleged that the latter are liable for negligence for leaving two pieces of gauze inside Natividad’s body and malpractice for concealing their acts of negligence.
Pending the outcome of the above cases, Natividad died and was duly substituted by her children (the Aganas). The RTC rendered its Decision in favor of the Aganas, finding PSI, Dr. Ampil and Dr. Fuentes liable for negligence and malpractice.
The Court of Appeals rendered its Decision dismissing the case against Dr. Fuentes with Dr. Ampil liable to reimburse Professional Services, Inc., whatever amount the latter will pay or had paid to the plaintiffs.
Issues: Whether or not PSI may be held solidarily liable for the negligence of Dr. Ampil.
Held: Yes, PSI is solidarily liable for the negligence of Dr. Ampil. In Ramos v. Court of Appeals, the court held that private hospitals, hire, fire and exercise real control over their attending and visiting ‘consultant’ staff. While ‘consultants’ are not, technically employees, 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. The court held 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.
In addition to the pronouncement in Ramos vs CA, Its liability is also anchored upon the agency principle of apparent authority or agency by estoppel and the doctrine of corporate negligence.
Apparent authority, or what is sometimes referred to as the “holding out” theory, or doctrine of ostensible agency or agency by estoppel, imposes liability, not as the result of the reality of a contractual relationship, but rather because of the actions of a principal or an employer in somehow misleading the public into believing that the relationship or the authority exists.
In this case, PSI publicly displays in the lobby of Hospital the names and specializations of the physicians associated or accredited by it, including those of Dr. Ampil and Dr. Fuentes. It is now estopped from passing all the blame to the physicians whose names it proudly paraded in the public directory leading the public to believe that it vouched for their skill and competence. PSI’s act is tantamount to holding out to the public that Medical City Hospital, through its accredited physicians, offers quality health care services. By accrediting Dr. Ampil and Dr. Fuentes and publicly advertising their qualifications, the hospital created the impression that they were its agents, authorized to perform medical or surgical services for its patients. As expected, these patients, Natividad being one of them, accepted the services on the reasonable belief that such were being rendered by the hospital or its employees, agents, or servants.
Under the doctrine of corporate negligence or corporate responsibility, PSI as owner, operator and manager of Medical City Hospital, did not perform the necessary supervision nor exercise diligent efforts in the supervision of Drs. Ampil and Fuentes and its nursing staff, resident doctors, and medical interns who assisted Drs. Ampil and Fuentes in the performance of their duties as surgeons. Premised on the doctrine of corporate negligence, the trial court held that PSI is directly liable for such breach of duty.
In the present case, it was duly established that PSI operates the Medical City Hospital for the purpose and under the concept of providing comprehensive medical services to the public. Accordingly, it has the duty to exercise reasonable care to protect from harm all patients admitted into its facility for medical treatment. Unfortunately, PSI failed to perform such duty.
It is worthy to note that Dr. Ampil and Dr. Fuentes operated on Natividad with the assistance of the Medical City Hospital’s staff, composed of resident doctors, nurses, and interns. As such, it is reasonable to conclude that PSI, as the operator of the hospital, has actual or constructive knowledge of the procedures carried out, particularly the report of the attending nurses that the two pieces of gauze were missing. In Fridena v. Evans, it was held that a corporation is bound by the knowledge acquired by or notice given to its agents or officers within the scope of their authority and in reference to a matter to which their authority extends. This means that the knowledge of any of the staff of Medical City Hospital constitutes knowledge of PSI. Now, the failure of PSI, despite the attending nurses’ report, to investigate and inform Natividad regarding the missing gauzes amounts to callous negligence. Not only did PSI breach its duties to oversee or supervise all persons who practice medicine within its walls, it also failed to take an active step in fixing the negligence committed. This renders PSI, not only vicariously liable for the negligence of Dr. Ampil under Article 2180 of the Civil Code, but also directly liable for its own negligence under Article 2176.
PSI, apart from a general denial of its responsibility, failed to adduce evidence showing that it exercised the diligence of a good father of a family in the accreditation and supervision of Dr. Ampil. In neglecting to offer such proof, PSI failed to discharge its burden under the last paragraph of Article 2180 and, therefore, must be adjudged solidarily liable with Dr. Ampil.