Ybarra v. Spangard – Case Brief Summary
Summary of Ybarra v. Spangard, 25 Cal.2d 486, 154 P.2d 687 (Cal.1944).
Ybarra (P) was diagnosed with appendicitis and arranged for Dr. Spangard (D) to perform an appendectomy. Ybarra awoke the next morning after surgery with a sharp pain between his neck and his right shoulder and eventually developed paralysis and muscle atrophy. The plaintiff filed suit based on res ipsa loquitur against a number of parties including other physicians and nurses.
The defendants asserted that res ipsa loquitur did not apply because there was no showing that the act of any particular defendant was the cause of the harm. The defendants also claimed that there were several instrumentalities involved and any of them may have caused the injury. The trial court awarded a nonsuit and Ybarra appealed.
- Does the number or relationship of the defendants alone determine whether the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applies?
- Does the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur apply when a plaintiff undergoing a medical procedure sustains an injury to a party of the body not under treatment?
Holding and Rule
- No. Neither the number nor the relationship of the defendants alone determines whether the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applies.
- Yes. The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applies when a plaintiff undergoing a medical procedure sustains an injury to a party of the body not under treatment.
Three conditions for res ipsa loquitur:
- the accident must be of a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of someone’s negligence;
- it must be caused by an agency or instrumentality within the exclusive control of the defendant; and
- it must not have been due to any voluntary action or contribution on the part of the plaintiff.
Res ipsa loquitur creates a presumption that the party accused of causing harm must overcome with evidence. It arises when the chief evidence is practically accessible to the accused party but inaccessible to the injured person. Without the aid of the doctrine a patient who received permanent personal injuries, caused by the negligence of another, would be entirely unable to recover unless the doctors and nurses in attendance voluntarily chose to disclose the identity of the negligent person and the facts establishing liability.
Control Over the Instrumentality
The issue is whether the defendant had the right of control and not necessarily actual control. Where a manufacturer has delivered the instrumentality to a retailer and thus has given up actual control, he will nevertheless be subject to the doctrine where it is shown that there was no change in the condition of the merchandise after it left the manufacturer’s possession. In such a case the manufacturer is in constructive control.
Res ipsa loquitur may be applied when multiple defendants and instrumentalities may have caused the accident, provided there is a finite group at which to point the blame. When a plaintiff receives injuries while unconscious and in the course of medical treatment all parties with control over the patient may be held to answer an inference of negligence.
See Temple v. Synthes Corp., Ltd. for a law school civil procedure case brief involving products liability and medical malpractice.