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Ybarra v. Spangard

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Brief Fact Summary.

Ybarra (Plaintiff) was injured during the removal of his appendix by Spangard (Defendant) and other doctors and nurses. Because Plaintiff was unconscious during the surgery, he did not have evidence of which medical professional may have caused the injury.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Res ipsa loquitur may still be used as a theory of negligence in cases with multiple defendants, any of whom may have caused the injury.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

Thus a surgeon has been held liable for the negligence of an assisting nurse who leaves a sponge or other object inside a patient, and the fact that the duty of seeing that such mistakes do not occur is delegated to others does not absolve the doctor from responsibility for their negligence.

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Facts.

Ybarra (Plaintiff) had his appendix removed by Spangard (Defendant) and other doctors and nurses. Plaintiff was under anesthesia during the procedure. When he woke up, he had pain between his neck and shoulder and eventually could not lift his arm. The injury was linked to trauma at the source of the pain. Plaintiff sued Defendant under a res ipsa loquitur theory.

Issue.

Can a plaintiff use a res ipsa loquitur theory of negligence against all defendants who might have caused the injury?

Held.

Yes, the Court holds that the plaintiff may pursue a res ipsa loquitur theory against all defendants, even though the injury may have only been caused by one or some of them. The Court reversed the trial court’s dismissal.

Discussion.

  • The Court argues that cases like these are exactly the kind that res ipsa loquitur should be used for. Plaintiff was unconscious during the surgery and cannot know the cause of his injury without the cooperation of the Defendants, so it makes sense to pursue a case against all of them under this theory.
  • By allowing a res ipsa loquitur theory, the Court says the burden should be on the various Defendants to explain if they were not the one who caused the injury. They should not get off the hook simply because Plaintiff cannot point a finger at the one who actually did it.

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