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Torts and Damages Case Digest: Culion Ice, Fish and Electric co v. Phil Motors Corp. (1930)

G.R. No. L-32611             November 3, 1930
Lessons Applicable: Experts and Professionals (Torts and Damages)

  • January, 1925: Cranston decided, if practicable, to have the engine on the Gwendoline changed from a gasoline consumer to a crude oil burner, expecting thereby to effect economy in the cost of running the boat
    • He made known his desire to McLeod & Co., a firm dealing in tractors, and was told by Mc Kellar that he might make inquiries of the Philippine Motors Corporations
    • Cranston repaired to the office of the Philippine Motors Corporation and had a conference with C.E. Quest, its manager, who agreed to do the job, with the understanding that payment should be made upon completion of the work.
  • The Philippine Motors Corporation was at this time engaged in business as an automobile agency, but, under its charter, it had authority to deal in all sorts of machinery engines and motors, as well as to build, operate, buy and sell the same and the equipment therof. 
  • Quest, in company with Cranston, visited the Gwendoline while it lay at anchor in the Pasig River, and the work of effecting the change in the engine was begun
    • Upon preliminary inspection of the engine, Quest came to the conclusion that the principal thing necessary to accomplish the end in view was to install a new carburetor, and a Zenith carburetor was chosen as the one most adapted to the purpose. 
    • After this appliance had been installed, the engine was tried with gasoline as a fuel, supplied from the tank already in use. The result of this experiment was satisfactory. 
    • The next problem was to introduce into the carburetor the baser fuel, consisting of a low grade of oil mixed with distillate.
  • In the course of the preliminary work upon the carburetor and its connections, it was observed that the carburetor was flooding, and that the gasoline, or other fuel, was trickling freely from the lower part to the carburetor to the floor. This fact was called to Quest's attention, but he appeared to think lightly of the matter and said that, when the engine had gotten to running well, the flooding would disappear.
  • January 30,1925 5 pm: The first part of the course was covered without any untoward development, other than the fact that the engine stopped a few times, owing no doubt to the use of an improper mixture of fuel. In the course of the trial Quest remained outside of the engine compartment and occupied himself with making distillate, with a view to ascertaining what proportion of the two elements would give best results in the engine.
  • 7:30 pm:  and when passing near Cavite, the engine stopped, and connection again had to be made with the gasoline line to get a new start. After this had been done the mechanic, or engineer, switched to the tube connecting with the new mixture. 
  • A moment later a back fire occurred in the cylinder chamber. This caused a flame to shoot back into the carburetor, and instantly the carburetor and adjacent parts were covered with a mass of flames, which the members of the crew were unable to subdue. They were therefore compelled, as the fire spread, to take to a boat, and their escape was safely effected, but the Gwendoline was reduced to a mere hulk. The salvage from, the wreck, when sold, brought only the sum of P150. The value of the boat, before the accident occurred, as the court found, was P10,000.
ISSUE: W/N the incident was due to the negligence of Phil. Motors as experts.

HELD:  YES. It results that the judgment appealed from, awarding damages to the plaintiff in the amount of P9,850, with interest, must be affirmed; and it is so ordered, with costs against the appellant.
  • Ordinarily a back fire from an engine would not be followed by any disaster, but in this case the leak along the pipe line and the flooding of the carburetor had created a dangerous situation, which a prudent mechanic, versed in repairs of this nature, would have taken precautions to avoid. The back fire may have been due either to the fact that the spark was too advanced or the fuel improperly mixed.
  • In this connection it must be remembered that when a person holds himself out as being competent to do things requiring professional skill, he will be held liable for negligence if he fails to exhibit the care and skill of one ordinarily skilled in the particular work which he attempts to do.
  • The proof shows that Quest had had ample experience in fixing the engines of automobiles and tractors, but it does not appear that he was experienced in the doing of similar work on boats. 
    • Quest did not use the skill that would have been exhibited by one ordinarily expert in repairing gasoline engines on boats = negligence.
  • The test of liability is not whether the injury was accidental in a sense, but whether Quest was free from blame
  • accident is chargeable to lack of skill or negligence in effecting the changes which Quest undertook to accomplish; and even supposing that our theory as to the exact manner in which the accident occurred might appear to be in some respects incorrect, yet the origin of the fire in not so inscrutable as to enable us to say that it was casus fortuitus.