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Torts and Damages Case Digest: Fernando v. CA (1992)

G.R. No. 92087 May 8, 1992
Lessons Applicable: Experts and Professionals (Torts and Damages)

  • November 7, 1975: Bibiano Morta, market master of the Agdao Public Market filed a requisition request with the Chief of Property of the City Treasurer's Office for the re-emptying of the septic tank in Agdao wherein Bascon won
  • November 22, 1975: bidder Bertulano with four other companions namely Joselito Garcia, William Liagoso, Alberto Fernando and Jose Fajardo, Jr. were found dead inside the septic tank. 
    • The bodies were removed by a fireman.
    • The body of Joselito Garcia, was taken out by his uncle, Danilo Garcia and taken to the Regional Hospital but he expired there. 
  • The City Engineer's office investigated the case and learned they entered the septic tank without clearance from it nor with the knowledge and consent of the market master. 
    • Since the septic tank was found to be almost empty, they were presumed to be the ones who did the re-emptying.
  • Dr. Juan Abear of the City Health Office found them to have died from "asphyxia" - diminution of oxygen supply in the body and intake of toxic gas
  • November 26, 1975: Bascon signed the purchase order 
  • RTC: Dismissed the case
  • CA: Reversed - law intended to protect the plight of the poor and the needy, the ignorant and the indigent
ISSUE: W/N Davao city is negligent and its negligence is the proximate cause therefore can be liable for damages

HELD: NO. CA affirmed.
  • test by which to determine the existence of negligence in a particular case:
    • Did the defendant in doing the alleged negligent act use that reasonable care and caution which an ordinarily prudent person would have used in the same situation? If not, then he is guilty of negligence
      • standard supposed to be supplied by the imaginary conduct of the discreet pater familias of the Roman law
  • Conduct is said to be negligent when a prudent man in the position of the tortfeasor would have foreseen that an effect harmful to another was sufficiently probable warrant his foregoing the conduct or guarding against its consequences
    • The question as to what would constitute the conduct of a prudent man in a given situation must of course be always determined in the light of human experience and in view of the facts involved in the particular case
    • Reasonable foresight of harm, followed by the ignoring of the suggestion born of this provision, is always necessary before negligence can be held to exist
  • Distinction must be made between the accident and the injury
    • Where he contributes to the principal occurrence, as one of its determining factors, he can not recover
    • Where, in conjunction with the occurrence, he contributes only to his own injury, he may recover the amount that the defendant responsible for the event should pay for such injury, less a sum deemed a suitable equivalent for his own imprudence
  • Toilets and septic tanks are not nuisances per se as defined in Article 694 of the New Civil Code which would necessitate warning signs for the protection of the public
    • While the construction of these public facilities demands utmost compliance with safety and sanitary requirements, the putting up of warning signs is not one of those requirements
  • accident such as toxic gas leakage from the septic tank is unlikely to happen unless one removes its covers
  • Considering the nature of the task of emptying a septic tank especially one which has not been cleaned for years, an ordinarily prudent person should undoubtedly be aware of the attendant risks. The victims are no exception; more so with Mr. Bertulano, an old hand in this kind of service, who is presumed to know the hazards of the job. His failure, therefore, and that of his men to take precautionary measures for their safety was the proximate cause of the accident.
  • proximate and immediate cause of the death of the victims was due to their own negligence. Consequently, the petitioners cannot demand damages from the public respondent.