Pregnant with her fourth child, Corazon Nogales (“Corazon”), who was then 37 years old, was under the exclusive prenatal care of Dr. Oscar Estrada (“Dr. Estrada”) beginning on her fourth month of pregnancy or as early as December 1975. While Corazon was on her last trimester of pregnancy, Dr. Estrada noted an increase in her blood pressure and development of leg edema indicating preeclampsia, which is a dangerous complication of pregnancy. Around midnight of 25 May 1976, Corazon started to experience mild labor pains prompting Corazon and Rogelio Nogales (“Spouses Nogales”) to see Dr. Estrada at his home. After examining Corazon, Dr. Estrada advised her immediate admission to the Capitol Medical Center (“CMC”). The following day, Corazon was admitted at 2:30 a.m. at the CMC after the staff nurse noted the written admission request of Dr. Estrada. Upon Corazon’s admission at the CMC, Rogelio Nogales (“Rogelio”) executed and signed the “Consent on Admission and Agreement” and “Admission Agreement.” Corazon was then brought to the labor room of the CMC. Corazon died at 9:15 a.m. The cause of death was “hemorrhage, post partum.”
Petitioners filed a complaint for damages with the Regional Trial Court of Manila against CMC, Dr. Estrada, and the rest of CMC medical staff for the death of Corazon. In their defense, CMC pointed out that Dr. Estrada was a consultant to be considered as an independent-contractor, and that no employer-employee relationship existed between the former and the latter.
After more than 11 years of trial, the trial court rendered judgment on 22 November 1993 finding Dr. Estrada solely liable for damages. Petitioners appealed the trial court’s decision. Petitioners claimed that aside from Dr. Estrada, the remaining respondents should be held equally liable for negligence. Petitioners pointed out the extent of each respondent’s alleged liability.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling and applied the “borrowed servant doctrine” to release the liability of other medical staff. This doctrine provides that once the surgeon enters the operating room and takes charge of the proceedings, the acts or omissions of operating room personnel, and any negligence associated with such acts or omissions, are imputable to the surgeon. While the assisting physicians and nurses may be employed by the hospital, or engaged by the patient, they normally become the temporary servants or agents of the surgeon in charge while the operation is in progress, and liability may be imposed upon the surgeon for their negligent acts under the doctrine of respondeat superior.
ISSUE: Whether CMC is vicariously liable for the negligence of Dr. Estrada as its attending independent-contractor physician considering that facts of the instant case.
In general, a hospital is not liable for the negligence of an independent contractor-physician. There is, however, an exception to this principle. The hospital may be liable if the physician is the “ostensible” agent of the hospital. This exception is also known as the “doctrine of apparent authority.”xxx The doctrine of apparent authority essentially involves two factors to determine the liability of an independent-contractor physician. The first factor focuses on the hospital’s manifestations and is sometimes described as an inquiry whether the hospital acted in a manner which would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the individual who was alleged to be negligent was an employee or agent of the hospital. In this regard, the hospital need not make express representations to the patient that the treating physician is an employee of the hospital; rather a representation may be general and implied. xxx The second factor focuses on the patient’s reliance. It is sometimes characterized as an inquiry on whether the plaintiff acted in reliance upon the conduct of the hospital or its agent, consistent with ordinary care and prudence.
In the instant case, CMC impliedly held out Dr. Estrada as a member of its medical staff. Through CMC’s acts, CMC clothed Dr. Estrada with apparent authority thereby leading the Spouses Nogales to believe that Dr. Estrada was an employee or agent of CMC. CMC cannot now repudiate such authority. The records show that the Spouses Nogales relied upon a perceived employment relationship with CMC in accepting Dr. Estrada’s services. Rogelio testified that he and his wife specifically chose Dr. Estrada to handle Corazon’s delivery not only because of their friend’s recommendation, but more importantly because of Dr. Estrada’s “connection with a reputable hospital, the [CMC].” In other words, Dr. Estrada’s relationship with CMC played a significant role in the Spouses Nogales’ decision in accepting Dr. Estrada’s services as the obstetrician-gynecologist for Corazon’s delivery. Moreover, as earlier stated, there is no showing that before and during Corazon’s confinement at CMC, the Spouses Nogales knew or should have known that Dr. Estrada was not an employee of CMC. xxx CMC’s defense that all it did was “to extend to [Corazon] its facilities” is untenable. The Court cannot close its eyes to the reality that hospitals, such as CMC, are in the business of treatment.
The Court finds respondent Capitol Medical Center vicariously liable for the negligence of Dr. Oscar Estrada. The amounts of P105,000 as actual damages and P700,000 as moral damages should each earn legal interest at the rate of six percent (6%) per annum computed from the date of the judgment of the trial court. The Court affirms the rest of the Decision dated 6 February 1998 and Resolution dated 21 March 2000 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 45641.