Ybarra v. Spangard
25 Cal.2d 154 P.2d 687 (1944)

  • Ybarra was in the hospital for an appendectomy performed by Spangard. After the operation, Ybarra woke up with pain in his arm, which implied that somehow during the operation someone did something to him while he was unconscious to sprain his arm. He sued Ybarra and the other doctors and nurses for medical malpractice.
  • The Trial Court found for Spangard. Ybarra appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that there was no evidence of negligence, nor that the injury was attributable to any particular person or instrumentality.
      • Spangard argued that Ybarra was in the care of numerous people and instrumentalities while unconscious, so there was no way to blame any one person without direct evidence.
    • The Trial Court rejected Ybarra’s argument of res ipsa loquitur.
  • The Appellate Court reversed.
    • The Appellate Court found that where a plaintiff receives unusual injuries while unconscious and in the course of medical treatment, all those defendants who had any control over his body or the instrumentalities which might have caused the injuries may be properly called upon to meet the inference of negligence by giving an explanation of their conduct.
    • The Court found that since Ybarra was unconscious during the operation, it was unreasonable to ask him to show a specific act of negligence. As long as he could show that some external force caused his injury, he qualifies for res ipsa loquitur.
    • The Court found that, although there were numerous persons and instrumentalities involved in the treatment of Ybarra, all were in the control of the same group of doctors. Which specific act caused the injury doesn’t matter, since all the instrumentalities were in Spangard’s control.
      • Spangard unsuccessfully argued that since not all of the people in the room worked directly for the hospital, no one person/company ever had exclusive control, which is a requirement for res ipsa loquitur.
        • However, the Court felt that the persons in charge are responsible for everyone working for them, its one big team.
  • In general, Courts have rejected a strict requirement for exclusive control when pleading res ipsa loquitur in medical malpractice. The only requirement is that the injury cannot be reasonably attributed to a pre-existing condition or other frailty in the plaintiff.