Kinds and effects of acquittal on civil liability

Kinds and effects of acquittal on civil liability
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Dear PAO,

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My wife, a medical doctor, faced a complaint for medical negligence related to the death of her patient. In its decision, the court acquitted my wife after finding that she was not the author of the act complained of. However, the court still held her civilly liable, explaining that the quantum of proof required for civil liability to arise is only a preponderance of evidence, unlike the criminal aspect, which requires proof beyond reasonable doubt. Is that possible?

Simeon

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Dear Simeon,

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Civil liability based on delict or crime may be extinguished if there is a finding in the criminal action that the accused did not commit the acts or omissions complained of. This is supported by the Supreme Court decision in Spouse Nuñez vs. Dr. Henry Daz, GR 246489, Jan. 29, 2024, penned by Associate Justice Maria Filomena Singh:

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“The Court has consistently held that there are two kinds of acquittal: (1) that the accused is not the author of the act or omission complaint of; and (2) that the prosecutor failed to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. Although they have the same effect on the acquittal of the accused, their effects differ as to the accused civil liability. The Court held in Manantan v. Court of Appeals:

“Our law recognizes two kinds of acquittal, with different effects on the civil liability of the accused. First is an acquittal on the ground that the accused is not the author of the act or omission complaint of. This instance closes the door to civil liability, for a person who has been found to be not the perpetrator of any act or omission cannot and can never be held liable for such act or omission. There being no delict; civil liability ex delicto is out of the question; and the civil action, if any, which may be instituted must be based on grounds other than the delict complained of. This is the situation contemplated in Rule 111 of the Rules of Court. The second instance is an acquittal based on reasonable doubt on the guilt of the accused. In this case, even if the guilt of the accused has not been satisfactorily established, he is not exempt from civil liability which may be proved by preponderance of evidence only x x x

“The present case falls under the first kind of acquittal, i.e. the accused is not the author of the act or omission complained of. In its Decision, the RTC clearly and categorically found that ‘Dr. Daz could not be blamed on the mere fact that the hot water bag gave way or may have been ruptured.’ Worse, the prosecution miserably failed to offer any evidence that a hot water bag broke.”

Following the foregoing, considering that your wife was acquitted by the trial court on the ground that she is not the author of the acts or omissions complained of, then it is clear that she is not also civilly liable for the incident. Her acquittal falls under the first kind, and as tersely stated by the Supreme Court in the cited jurisprudence, a person who is found not to be the perpetrator of the crime cannot be held liable for such act or omission.

We hope that we were able to answer your queries. This advice is based solely on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary when other facts are changed or elaborated on.

Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to [email protected]



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