Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff brought suit for negligence after he sustained injuries by Defendants during the course of a surgical operation. Judgment was entered for Defendants after the court held that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur did not apply.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. When Plaintiff receives unusual injuries while unconscious and in the course of medial treatment, all those defendants who had any control over his body or the instrumentalities, which might have caused the injuries, may properly be called upon to meet the inference of negligence by giving an explanation of their conduct.
Issue. Is res ipsa loquitur appropriately invoked in cases of injury from medical treatments when there were multiple doctors and nurses involved in the care of a patient?
Held. Yes. Judgment reversed.
* The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur has three conditions: (1) the accident must be of a kind which ordinary does not occur in the absence of someone’s negligence; (2) it must be caused by an agency or instrumentality within the exclusive control of Defendant; and (3) it must not be due to any voluntary action on the part of Plaintiff. The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is applicable to Plaintiff because he is a patient who submitted himself to the care and custody of doctors and nurses, is rendered unconscious, and receives injury from instrumentalities used in his treatment.
* If the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur did not apply to Plaintiff’s case, then, because of the multitude of different doctors and nurses, it would be impossible for Plaintiff to recover unless the doctors and nurses voluntarily decided to disclose the negligent person and the facts necessary to establish liability. Doctors and nurses are not about to point fingers at one another. In order for Plaintiff to recover without the use of this doctrine, courts would be forced to invoke the principles of absolute liability, irrespective of negligence.
* The condition that the injury must not have been due to Plaintiff’s voluntary action is fully satisfied. The condition that the accident must be one which ordinarily does not occur unless someone was negligent is fully satisfied.
* Defendants argue that Plaintiff has not shown an injury caused by an instrumentality under a defendant’s control because Plaintiff has not shown which of the several instrumentalities caused the injury and that the instrumentality was under the control of a defendant. In a modern hospital, a patient is quite likely to come under the care of a number of persons in different types of contractual and other relationships with each other. But neither the number nor the relationship of Defendants alone determines whether the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applies. Each Defendant was bound to exercise ordinary care to see that no unnecessary harm came to Plaintiff and each would be liable for failure in this regard.
* It is manifestly unreasonable for Defendants to insist that Plaintiff identify any one of them as the person who did the alleged negligent act. It is enough that Plaintiff can show an injury resulting from an external force applied while he lay unconscious in the hospital.
In the recent pronouncement of the California Supreme Court in Ybarra v. Spangard L. R.: it is difficult to see how the doctrine can, with any justification, be so restricted in its statement as to become inapplicable to a patient who submits himself to the care and custody of doctors and nurses, is rendered unconscious, and receives some injury from instrumentalities used in his treatment.View Full Point of Law