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A fire broke out at the Caltex service station at the corner of Antipolo street and Rizal Avenue, Manila. It started while gasoline was being hosed from a tank truck into the underground storage, right at the opening of the receiving tank where the nozzle of the hose was inserted (a lighted matchstick was thrown by a stranger near the opening, causing the fire). The fire spread to and burned several neighboring houses. Their owners, among them petitioners here, sued respondents Caltex (Phil.), Inc. and Boquiren, the first as alleged owner of the station and the second as its agent in charge of operation. Negligence on the part of both of them was attributed as the cause of the fire.
The trial court and the CA found that petitioners failed to prove negligence and that respondents had exercised due care in the premises and with respect to the supervision of their employees. Hence this petition.
Whether or not without proof as to the cause and origin of the fire, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur should apply so as to presume negligence on the part of appellees
The decision appealed from is reversed and respondents-appellees are held liable solidarily to appellants,
Both the trial court and the appellate court refused to apply the doctrine in the instant case on the grounds that “as to (its) applicability … in the Philippines, there seems to be nothing definite,” and that while the rules do not prohibit its adoption in appropriate cases, “in the case at bar, however, we find no practical use for such doctrine.”
The question deserves more than such summary dismissal. The doctrine has actually been applied in this jurisdiction, in the case of Espiritu vs. Philippine Power and Development Co
The principle enunciated in the aforequoted case applies with equal force here. The gasoline station, with all its appliances, equipment and employees, was under the control of appellees. A fire occurred therein and spread to and burned the neighboring houses. The persons who knew or could have known how the fire started were appellees and their employees, but they gave no explanation thereof whatsoever. It is a fair and reasonable inference that the incident happened because of want of care.
Even then the fire possibly would not have spread to the neighboring houses were it not for another negligent omission on the part of defendants, namely, their failure to provide a concrete wall high enough to prevent the flames from leaping over it. Defendants’ negligence, therefore, was not only with respect to the cause of the fire but also with respect to the spread thereof to the neighboring houses.
There is an admission on the part of Boquiren in his amended answer to the second amended complaint that “the fire was caused through the acts of a stranger who, without authority, or permission of answering defendant, passed through the gasoline station and negligently threw a lighted match in the premises.” No evidence on this point was adduced, but assuming the allegation to be true — certainly any unfavorable inference from the admission may be taken against Boquiren — it does not extenuate his negligence. A decision of the Supreme Court of Texas, upon facts analogous to those of the present case, states the rule which we find acceptable here. “It is the rule that those who distribute a dangerous article or agent, owe a degree of protection to the public proportionate to and commensurate with a danger involved … we think it is the generally accepted rule as applied to torts that ‘if the effects of the actor’s negligent conduct actively and continuously operate to bring about harm to another, the fact that the active and substantially simultaneous operation of the effects of a third person’s innocent, tortious or criminal act is also a substantial factor in bringing about the harm, does not protect the actor from liability.’ Stated in another way, “The intention of an unforeseen and unexpected cause, is not sufficient to relieve a wrongdoer from consequences of negligence, if such negligence directly and proximately cooperates with the independent cause in the resulting injury.”