• Expert opinion needed to prove medical malpractice

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    Persida Acosta

    Persida Acosta

    Dear PAO,
    My wife died in the hospital two days after she gave birth. I knew that there was something wrong because the cause of her death cannot be explained by the attending obstetrician-gynecologist, including the hospital staff from whom I asked for some explanations. I really want to sue them; however, I do not have proofs. Please guide me on what to do.
    Dindo

    Dear Dindo,
    Most cases in medical malpractice or criminal negligence need the testimony of expert witness to prove that malpractice was committed. In Rosit vs Gestuvo (G.R. No. 210445, December 7, 2015), the Supreme Court clearly discussed the necessity of expert testimony to prove medical malpractice including its exemptions:

    “To establish medical negligence, this court has held that an expert testimony is generally required to define the standard of behavior by which the court may determine whether the physician has properly performed the requisite duty toward the patient. This is so considering that the requisite degree of skill and care in the treatment of a patient is usually a matter of expert opinion.

    Solidum v. People of the Philippines provides an exception. There, the court explained that where the application of the principle of res ipsa loquitur is warranted, an expert testimony may be dispensed with in medical negligence cases:

    Although generally, expert medical testimony is relied upon in malpractice suits to prove that a physician has done a negligent act or that he has deviated from the standard medical procedure, when the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is availed of by the plaintiff, the need for expert medical testimony is dispensed with because the injury itself provides the proof of negligence. The reason is that the general rule on the necessity of expert testimony applies only to such matters clearly within the domain of medical science, and not to matters that are within the common knowledge of mankind which may be testified to by anyone familiar with the facts. x x x

    Thus, courts of other jurisdictions have applied the doctrine in the following situations: leaving of a foreign object in the body of the patient after an operation, injuries sustained on a healthy part of the body which was not under, or in the area, of treatment, removal of the wrong part of the body when another part was intended, knocking out a tooth while a patient’s jaw was under anaesthetic for the removal of his tonsils, and loss of an eye while the patient plaintiff was under the influence of anaesthetic, during or following an operation for appendicitis, among others.

    We have further held that resort to the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur as an exception to the requirement of an expert testimony in medical negligence cases may be availed of if the following essential requisites are satisfied: ( 1) the accident was of a kind that does not ordinarily occur unless someone is negligent; (2) the instrumentality or agency that caused the injury was under the exclusive control of the person charged; and (3) the injury suffered must not have been due to any voluntary action or contribution of the person injured.”

    Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.

    We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.

    Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net

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