Civil Law

Schloendorff Doctrine

Ramos vs. CA

G.R. No. 124354. December 29, 1999


The case of Schloendorff v. Society of New York Hospital was then considered an authority for this view. The “Schloendorff doctrine” regards a physician, even if employed by a hospital, as an independent contractor because of the skill he exercises and the lack of control exerted over his work. Under this doctrine, hospitals are exempt from the application of the respondeat superior principle for fault or negligence committed by physicians in the discharge of their profession.

However, the efficacy of the foregoing doctrine has weakened with the significant developments in medical care. Courts came to realize that modern hospitals are increasingly taking active role in supplying and regulating medical care to patients. No longer were a hospital’s functions limited to furnishing room, food, facilities for treatment and operation, and attendants for its patients. Thus, in Bing v. Thunig, the New York Court of Appeals deviated from the Schloendorff doctrine, noting that modern hospitals actually do far more than provide facilities for treatment. Rather, they regularly employ, on a salaried basis, a large staff of physicians, interns, nurses, administrative and manual workers. They charge patients for medical care and treatment, even collecting for such services through legal action, if necessary. The court then concluded that there is no reason to exempt hospitals from the universal rule of respondeat superior.

In our shores, the nature of the relationship between the hospital and the physicians is rendered inconsequential in view of our categorical pronouncement in Ramos v. Court of Appeals that for purposes of apportioning responsibility in medical negligence cases, an employer-employee relationship in effect exists between hospitals and their attending and visiting physicians. This Court held:

“We now discuss the responsibility of the hospital in this particular incident. The unique practice (among private hospitals) of filling up specialist staff with attending and visiting “consultants,” who are allegedly not hospital employees, presents problems in apportioning responsibility for negligence in medical malpractice cases. However, the difficulty is more apparent than real.

In the first place, hospitals exercise significant control in the hiring and firing of consultants and in the conduct of their work within the hospital premises. Doctors who apply for ‘consultant’ slots, visiting or attending, are required to submit proof of completion of residency, their educational qualifications, generally, evidence of accreditation by the appropriate board (diplomate), evidence of fellowship in most cases, and references. These requirements are carefully scrutinized by members of the hospital administration or by a review committee set up by the hospital who either accept or reject the application. x x x.

In other words, private hospitals, hire, fire and exercise real control over their attending and visiting ‘consultant’ staff. While ‘consultants’ are not, technically employees, x x x, the control exercised, the hiring, and the right to terminate consultants all fulfill the important hallmarks of an employer-employee relationship, with the exception of the payment of wages. In assessing whether such a relationship in fact exists, the control test is determining. Accordingly, on the basis of the foregoing, we rule that for the purpose of allocating responsibility in medical negligence cases, an employer-employee relationship in effect exists between hospitals and their attending and visiting physicians. “

But the Ramos pronouncement is not our only basis in sustaining PSI’s liability. Its liability is also anchored upon the agency principle of apparent authority or agency by estoppel and the doctrine of corporate negligence which have gained acceptance in the determination of a hospital’s liability for negligent acts of health professionals.

In the present case, 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 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.

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.

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