Prescription of action for medical malpractice

Dear PAO,

Can I know the limitation period for filing a complaint for medical malpractice? My sister is still suffering from the after effects of her unfortunate surgery and only wishes to be informed of said period until she deems it appropriate and necessary to file the appropriate case for such malpractice.

Sarah

Dear Sarah,

The answer to your question is four years from the time of the alleged medical malpractice. The basis for such a period is found in the provisions of Republic Act 386, also known as the “New Civil Code of the Philippines”. For your information, article 2176 in relation to article 1146 of the said law reads as follows:

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“Article 2176. Whoever by act or omission causes damage to another, whether through fault or negligence, is bound to repair the damage caused. This fault or negligence, if there is no pre-existing contractual relationship between the parties, is called a quasi-tort and is governed by the provisions of this chapter.

“Section 1146. The following actions must be brought within four years: “(1) On infringement of the plaintiff’s rights;

“(2) On a quasi-delict;” (Underlining and underlining provided)

With regard to the above, the Supreme Court, in the recent case De Jesus v. Uyloan (GR 234851. February 15, 2022), written by Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo, reiterates that for the type of negligence committed by members of the the medical profession is also covered by the provision of the New Civil Code on quasi-delict which prescribes in four years, namely:

“In the absence of a specific law tailored to the type of negligence committed by members of the medical profession in this jurisdiction, such a claim for damages is almost always anchored on the alleged violation of art. 2176 of the Civil Code , which states that:

” ART. 2176. Whoever by act or omission causes damage to another, whether through fault or negligence, is bound to repair the damage caused. This fault or negligence, if there is no pre-existing contractual relationship between the parties, is called a quasi-delict and is governed by the provisions of this chapter. (Underlining and underlining provided)

Nevertheless, as was held in the De Jesus v. Uyloan case mentioned above, the only time an otherwise tortious act of medical malpractice or quasi-tort case can be removed from such cases and construed as a breach of contract which prescribes in six years for a verbal contract or 10 years for a written contract, would on the occasion of a successful allegation that the medical malpractice claim is actually based on the breach of an express promise to to provide medical treatment or to obtain a specific result, as well as:

“Thus, where the complaint contains allegations of the foregoing and the defendant physician failed to observe such degree of care which caused injury or harm to the plaintiff patient, the cause of action is a cause of medical negligence under tort rather than contract law .X xx

“There is no mention of any express promise on the part of the defendant physicians to provide medical treatment or to achieve a specific result. The absence of an express agreement as the basis for contractual liability is apparent from the mere invocation of an implicit contract between the parties X xx

“We believe that a mere reference to an implied contract between physician and patient, generally, is insufficient to plead a cause of action under the contractual theory of malpractice. A medical malpractice action based on a contract must allege an express promise to provide medical treatment or to achieve a specific result.” (Emphasis and underlining provided)

Therefore, applying the said law and case law to your request, if the complaint does not state an express promise of result or specific medical treatment, the general rule of medical negligence which prescribes in four years the premise of breach of duty Physician’s skill and care professionals, or their improper performance apply.

We hope we were able to answer your questions. Remember that this advice is based solely on the facts you have reported and our assessment of them. Our opinion may change when other facts are changed or elaborated.

Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily chronicle of the public ministry. Questions for Chef Acosta can be sent to [email protected]

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