Doctrine Of Corporate Negligence Or Corporate Responsibility

The complaint alleged that PSI as owner, operator and manager of Medical City Hospital did not perform the necessary supervision or exercise diligent efforts in the supervision of Dr. Ampil and Fuentes and its nursing staff, resident doctors, medical interns who assisted the doctors in the performance of their duties. Hence, premised on the doctrine of corporate negligence, PSI is directly liable for such breach of duty.

Is the contention correct? Why?

Held: Yes. 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. The findings of the trial court are convincing, thus:

x x x x PSI’s liability is traceable to its failure to conduct an investigation of the matter reported in the nota bene of the count nurse. Such failure established PSI’s part in the dark conspiracy of silence and concealment about the gauzes. Ethical considerations, if not also legal, dictated the holding of an immediate inquiry into the events, if not for the benefit of the patient to whom the duty is primarily owed, then in the interest of arriving at the truth. The Court cannot accept that the medical and the healing professions, through their members like defendant surgeons, and their institutions like PSI’s hospital facility, can callously turn their backs on and disregard even a mere probability of mistake or negligence by refusing or failing to investigate a report of such seriousness as the one in Natividad’s case.

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,127 Ariz. 516, 622 P. 2d 463 (1980), 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. The failure of PSI, despite the attending nurses’ report, to investigate and inform the patient 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. In Fridena, the Supreme Court of Arizona held:

x x x In recent years, however, the duty of care owed to the patient by the hospital has expanded. The emerging trend is to hold the hospital responsible where the hospital has failed to monitor and review medical services being provided within its walls. See Kahn Hospital Malpractice Prevention, 27 De Paul. Rev. 23 (1977).

Among the cases indicative of the ‘emerging trend’ is Purcell v. Zimbelman, 18 Ariz. App. 75,500 P. 2d 335 (1972). In Purcell, the hospital argued that it could not be held liable for the malpractice of a medical practitioner because he was an independent contractor within the hospital. The Court of Appeals pointed out that the hospital had created a professional staff whose competence and performance was to be monitored and reviewed by the governing body of the hospital, and the court held that a hospital would be negligent where it had knowledge or reason to believe that a doctor using the facilities was employing a method of treatment or care which fell below the recognized standard of care.

Subsequent to the Purcell decision, the Arizona Court of Appeals held that a hospital has certain inherent responsibilities regarding the quality of medical care furnished to patients within its walls and it must meet the standards of responsibility commensurate with this undertaking. Beeck v. Tucson General Hospital, 18 Ariz. App. 165, 500 P. 2d 1153 (1972). This court has confirmed the rulings of the Court of Appeals that a hospital has the duty of supervising the competence of the doctors on its staff. xxx.
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In the amended complaint, the plaintiffs did plead that the operation was performed at the hospital with its knowledge, aid, and assistance, and that the negligence of the defendants was the proximate cause of the patient’s injuries. We find that such general allegations of negligence, along with the evidence produced at the trial of this case, are sufficient to support the hospital’s liability based on the theory of negligent supervision.”

Anent the corollary issue of whether PSI is solidarily liable with Dr. Ampil for damages, let it be emphasized that 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 the latter. In neglecting to offer such proof, PSI failed to discharge its burden under the last paragraph of Article 2180 cited earlier, and, therefore, must be adjudged solidarily liable with Dr. Ampil. Moreover, as we have discussed, PSI is also directly liable to the Aganas.

One final word. Once a physician undertakes the treatment and care of a patient, the law imposes on him certain obligations. In order to escape liability, he must possess that reasonable degree of learning, skill and experience required by his profession. At the same time, he must apply reasonable care and diligence in the exercise of his skill and the application of his knowledge, and exert his best judgment.