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Petitioner Indophil Textile Mills, Inc. is a domestic corporation engaged in the business of manufacturing thread for weaving. Petitioner hired respondent Engr. Salvador Adviento as Civil Engineer to maintain its facilities in Lambakin, Marilao, Bulacan.
On August 7, 2002, respondent consulted a physician due to recurring weakness and dizziness. Few days later, he was diagnosed with Chronic Poly Sinusitis, and thereafter, with moderate, severe and persistent Allergic Rhinitis. Accordingly, respondent was advised by his doctor to totally avoid house dust mite and textile dust as it will transmute into health problems. Distressed, respondent filed a complaint against petitioner with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), San Fernando, Pampanga, for alleged illegal dismissal and for the payment of backwages, separation pay, actual damages and attorney’s fees. Subsequently, respondent filed another Complaint with the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Aparri, Cagayan, alleging that he contracted such occupational disease by reason of the gross negligence of petitioner to provide him with a safe, healthy and workable environment. In his Complaint, respondent alleged that as part of his job description, he conducts regular maintenance check on petitioner’s facilities including its dye house area, which is very hot and emits foul chemical odor with no adequate safety measures introduced by petitioner.
According to respondent, the air washer dampers and all roof exhaust vests are blown into open air, carrying dust thereto. Concerned, respondent recommended to management to place roof insulation to minimize, if not, eradicate the health hazards attendant in the work place. However, said recommendation was turned down by management due to high cost. In reply, petitioner filed a Motion to Dismiss on the ground that the RTC has no jurisdiction over the subject matter of the complaint because the same falls under the original and exclusive jurisdiction of the Labor Arbiter (LA) under Article 217(a)(4) of the Labor Code.
Whether or not the RTC has jurisdiction over the subject matter of respondent’s complaint praying for moral damages, exemplary damages, compensatory damages, anchored on petitioner’s alleged gross negligence in failing to provide a safe and healthy working environment for respondent.
YES. True, the maintenance of a safe and healthy workplace is ordinarily a subject of labor cases. More, the acts complained of appear to constitute matters involving employee-employer relations since respondent used to be the Civil Engineer of petitioner. However, it should be stressed that respondent’s claim for damages is specifically grounded on petitioner’s gross negligence to provide a safe, healthy and workable environment for its employees −a case of quasi-delict. This is easily ascertained from a plain and cursory reading of the Complaint, which enumerates the acts and/or omissions of petitioner relative to the conditions in the workplace.
It is a basic tenet that jurisdiction over the subject matter is determined upon the allegations made in the complaint, irrespective of whether or not the plaintiff is entitled to recover upon the claim asserted therein, which is a matter resolved only after and as a result of a trial. In this case, a perusal of the complaint would reveal that the subject matter is one of claim for damages arising from quasi-delict, which is within the ambit of the regular court's jurisdiction. In the case at bar, respondent alleges that due to the continued and prolonged exposure to textile dust seriously inimical to his health, he suffered work-contracted disease which is now irreversible and incurable, and deprived him of job opportunities.
Clearly, injury and damages were allegedly suffered by respondent, an element of quasi-delict. Secondly, the previous contract of employment between petitioner and respondent cannot be used to counter the element of "no pre-existing contractual relation" since petitioner’s alleged gross negligence in maintaining a hazardous work environment cannot be considered a mere breach of such contract of employment, but falls squarely within the elements of quasi-delict under Article 2176 of the Civil Code since the negligence is direct, substantive and independent. Hence, we ruled in Yusen Air and Sea Services Phils., Inc. v. Villamor that: When, as here, the cause of action is based on a quasi-delict or tort, which has no reasonable causal connection with any of the claims provided for in Article 217, jurisdiction over the action is with the regular courts. Therefore, the RTC has jurisdiction over the subject matter of respondent's complaint praying for moral damages, exemplary damages, compensatory damages, anchored on petitioner's alleged gross negligence in failing to provide a safe and healthy working environment for respondent.