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Dr. Solidum v. People, G.R. No. 192123, 10 March 2014.

26 Apr

[BERSAMIN, J.]

FACTS: Gerald Albert Gercayo (Gerald) was born with an imperforate anus. Two days after his birth, Gerald underwent colostomy, a surgical procedure to bring one end of the large intestine out through the abdominal wall, enabling him to excrete through a colostomy bag attached to the side of his body. When Gerald was three years old, he was admitted at the Ospital ng Maynila for a pull-through operation Dr. Leandro Resurreccion headed the surgical team, and was assisted by Dr. Joselito Luceño, Dr. Donatella Valeña and Dr. Joseph Tibio. The anesthesiologists included Dr. Marichu Abella, Dr. Arnel Razon and petitioner Dr. Fernando Solidum (Dr. Solidum). During the operation, Gerald experienced bradycardia, and went into a coma. His coma lasted for two weeks, but he regained consciousness only after a month. He could no longer see, hear or move.

A criminal complaint for Reckless Imprudence Resulting in Serious Physical Injuries was filed against Dr. Solidum. The RTC rendered a judgment of conviction against Dr. Solidum with Ospital ng Maynila jointly and severally liable. The CA affirmed the RTC judgment. The SC ruled that Dr. Solidum must be acquitted because the prosecution did not prove beyond reasonable doubt that Dr. Solidum had been recklessly imprudent in administering the anesthetic agent to Gerald.  Indeed, Dr. Vertido’s findings did not preclude the probability that other factors related to Gerald’s major operation, which could or could not necessarily be attributed to the administration of the anesthesia, had caused the hypoxia and had then led Gerald to experience bradycardia. Dr. Vertido revealingly concluded in his report, instead, that “although the anesthesiologist followed the normal routine and precautionary procedures, still hypoxia and its corresponding side effects did occur.

ISSUE#1: Will the acquittal of Dr. Solidum exempt him from civil liability arising from the crime?

HELD#2: NO, it does not follow.

We have to clarify that the acquittal of Dr. Solidum would not immediately exempt him from civil liability. But we cannot now find and declare him civilly liable because the circumstances that have been established here do not present the factual and legal bases for validly doing so. His acquittal did not derive only from reasonable doubt. There was really no firm and competent showing how the injury to Gerard had been caused. That meant that the manner of administration of the anesthesia by Dr. Solidum was not necessarily the cause of the hypoxia that caused the bradycardia experienced by Gerard. Consequently, to adjudge Dr. Solidum civilly liable would be to speculate on the cause of the hypoxia. We are not allowed to do so, for civil liability must not rest on speculation but on competent evidence.

ISSUE#2: Is the decree that Ospital ng Maynila is jointly and severally liable with Dr. Solidum correct?

HELD#2: NO, the decree is not correct.

For one, Ospital ng Maynila was not at all a party in the proceedings. Hence, its fundamental right to be heard was not respected from the outset. The R TC and the CA should have been alert to this fundamental defect. Verily, no person can be prejudiced by a ruling rendered in an action or proceeding in which he was not made a party. Such a rule would enforce the constitutional guarantee of due process of law.

Moreover, Ospital ng Maynila could be held civilly liable only when subsidiary liability would be properly enforceable pursuant to Article 103 of the Revised Penal Code. But the subsidiary liability seems far-fetched here. The conditions for subsidiary liability to attach to Ospital ng Maynila should first be complied with. Firstly, pursuant to Article 103 of the Revised Penal Code, Ospital ng Maynila must be shown to be a corporation “engaged in any kind of industry.” The term industry means any department or branch of art, occupation or business, especially one that employs labor and capital, and is engaged in industry.

However, Ospital ng Maynila, being a public hospital, was not engaged in industry conducted for profit but purely in charitable and humanitarian work. Secondly, assuming that Ospital ng Maynila was engaged in industry for profit, Dr. Solidum must be shown to be an employee of Ospital ng Maynila acting in the discharge of his duties during the operation on Gerald. Yet, he definitely was not such employee but a consultant of the hospital. And, thirdly, assuming that civil liability was adjudged against Dr. Solidum as an employee (which did not happen here), the execution against him was unsatisfied due to his being insolvent.

 

N.B.

In criminal prosecutions, the civil action for the recovery of civil liability that is deemed instituted with the criminal action refers only to that arising from the offense charged. It is puzzling, therefore, how the RTC and the CA could have adjudged Ospital ng Maynila jointly and severally liable with Dr. Solidum for the damages despite the obvious fact that Ospital ng Maynila, being an artificial entity, had not been charged along with Dr. Solidum. The lower courts thereby acted capriciously and whimsically, which rendered their judgment against Ospital ng Maynila void as the product of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction.

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