Jurisprudence Roundup: January 2007

My wife forwarded to me a message from the Pinoylaw mailing list about a recent decision that went against The Medical City for a botched surgery that occurred more than twenty years ago. In Professional Services Inc., v. Sps. Agana (G.R. No. 126297, January 31, 2007), a patient brought about a malpractice suit against two doctors and the hospital in which she convalesced after surgeons left two pieces of gauze in her abdominal cavity following cancer surgery. In finding for the patient, the Supreme Court ruled that in such a case, only the lead surgeon is responsible for the negligent acts of surgeons brought in for a consult or assistance during a surgery, as it is his responsibility to make sure that all foreign objects are removed from the body before closing surgery, and that as regards to hospitals and medical malpractice cases, an employer-employee relationship in effect exists between hospitals and their attending and visiting physicians, such that in this case the hospital must be considered to be secondarily liable for the mistakes of doctors operating under it.

What to me is interesting about this and other medical malpractice cases is that the patients who suffer from the incompetence of trigger-happy surgeons often have to wait a substantial amount of time before they can receive adequate relief. In this case, the spouses Aganas filed suit in 1984, and through legal maneuvering, it has taken more than twenty two years for the case to finally reach finality. The patient in this case died in 1986, and I seriously doubt whether the monetary award in this case is sufficient to soothe the pain of protracted litigation. I also doubt whether the award is enough for hospitals nationwide to consider remedial measures sufficient to prevent such an occurrence from happening again. What hurts most is that despite efforts by the judiciary to streamline case disposition, all one needs is a determined litigant and protracted litigation is a guarantee.

I’ve noticed that a significant amount of standard operating procedure in other countries develops through time as a compilation of knowledge with regard to tort avoidance. In this country, all that matters is statutory compliance, and damn the torpedoes with regard to negligence and other torts. Maybe the exemplary damages being imposed by courts nowadays aren’t enough. It’s a thesis topic, I’m sure.

Another case that grabbed my attention recently was that of PCGG v. Desierto (G. R. No. 135213, January 22, 2007). I won’t go into the details of the case but suffice it to say that a unanimous court on Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 overturned a decision of Desierto dismissing a complaint against several Marcos henchmen. The Office of the Ombudsman seems to be a pretty lonely position to me. It’s a damned if you do damned if you don’t kind of thing. If you’re a strict Ombudsman who refuses to proceed with a case unless it’s airtight, then you’re the kind of Ombudsman that lets people get away with graft and corruption. If you prosecute people left and right, you’re a witch hunter with an axe to grind, damned whatever the law may say. Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales comes to mind as an example of the latter. That being said, I think we should hold public officials to a higher standard, and a review of the investigatory process in the Office of the Ombudsman is in order.

Also of interest is First Aqua Traders, Inc., v. Bank of the Philippine Islands (G.R. No. 154034, February 5, 2007), which affirms the ruling in Neypes v. Court of Appeals (G.R. No. 141524, 14 September 2005), holding that a party-litigant has a fresh period of fifteen days from the receipt of the denial of a motion for reconsideration or new trial within which to perfect an appeal (this ruling is a departure from the old rule that the filing of a motion for reconsideration or new trial merely suspends the running of the period within which an appeal must be filed).

In basketball terms, instead of calling a ball that is almost intercepted and goes out of bounds as an incident that merely puts the ball out of bounds, the new rule places such an incident on the level of a ball deliberately kicked out of bounds that necessitates the resetting of the shot clock.

I personally like this new rule. It makes for easier recitation in class. Now all one has to remember is that you have fifteen days from the last order denying all available remedies within one court within which to perfect one’s appeal, even if the perfection of the appeal means filing a document that is only one page long. Sometimes, an appeal isn’t just a matter of filing that document – it takes a renewed commitment on the part of the litigant to even more protracted litigation.

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