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Torts and Damages Case Digest: Jarco Marketing v. CA (1999)

G.R. No. 129792 December 21, 1999
Lessons Applicable: Good Father of a Family (Torts and Damages)

  • May 9 1983: Criselda and her 6 year-old daughter Zhieneth were at the 2nd floor of Syvel's Department Store, Makati City. 
    • While Criselda was signing her credit card slip at the counter, she felt a sudden gust of wind and heard a loud thud.  As she looked behind her, she saw Zhieneth's body pinned by the bulk of the store's gift-wrapping counter/structure.  Zhieneth was crying and screaming for help.  Although shocked, Criselda was quick to ask the assistance of the people around in lifting the counter and retrieving Zhieneth from the floor.  Zhieneth was quickly rushed to the Makati Medical Center where she was operated on. 
  • Next day: Zhieneth lost her speech and communicated by writing on a magic slate. 
  • 14 days after: She died on the hospital bed.   The cause of her death was attributed to the injuries she sustained. 
  • After the burial of their daughter, Criselda demanded upon Jarco Marketing the reimbursement of the hospitalization, medical bills and wake and funeral expenses which they had incurred. But, they refused to pay. 
  • Criselda filed a complaint for damages
    • Jarco Marketing: answered with counterclaim and denied any liability.  
      • Criselda was negligent in exercising care and diligence over her daughter by allowing her to freely roam around in a store filled with glassware and appliances. Zhieneth too, was guilty of contributory negligence since she climbed the counter, triggering its eventual collapse on her. Petitioners also emphasized that the counter was made of sturdy wood with a strong support; it never fell nor collapsed for the past fifteen years since its construction.
      • maintained that it observed the diligence of a good father of a family in the selection, supervision and control of its employees. 
  • trial court dismissed the complaint and counterclaim 
    • proximate cause of the fall of the counter on Zhieneth was her act of clinging to it. 
  • CA: favored Criselda judgment. It found that petitioners were negligent in maintaining a structurally dangerous counter. The counter was shaped like an inverted "L" with a top wider than the base. It was top heavy and the weight of the upper portion was neither evenly distributed nor supported by its narrow base. Thus, the counter was defective, unstable and dangerous; a downward pressure on the overhanging portion or a push from the front could cause the counter to fall. Two former employees of petitioners had already previously brought to the attention of the management the danger the counter could cause. But the latter ignored their concern. 
ISSUE: W/N Jarco marketing was negligent or it was an accident

HELD: YES. CA affirmed

  • accident 
    • pertains to an unforeseen event in which no fault or negligence attaches to the defendant
    • a fortuitous circumstance, event or happening
    • an event happening without any human agency, or if happening wholly or partly through human agency, an event which under the circumstances is unusual or unexpected by the person to whom it happens
    • occurs when the person concerned is exercising ordinary care, which is not caused by fault of any person and which could not have been prevented by any means suggested by common prudence
  • negligence
    • omission to do something which a reasonable man, guided by those considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs, would do, or the doing of something which a prudent and reasonable man would not do
    • the failure to observe, for the protection of the interest of another person, that degree of care, precaution and vigilance which the circumstances justly demand, whereby such other person suffers injury
  • Accident and negligence are intrinsically contradictory; one cannot exist with the other
  • Under the circumstances thus described, it is unthinkable for Zhieneth, a child of such tender age and in extreme pain, to have lied to a doctor whom she trusted with her life. W
  • Without doubt, Panelo and another store supervisor were personally informed of the danger posed by the unstable counter. Yet, neither initiated any concrete action to remedy the situation nor ensure the safety of the store's employees and patrons as a reasonable and ordinary prudent man would have done. Thus, as confronted by the situation petitioners miserably failed to discharge the due diligence required of a good father of a family.
  • Anent the negligence imputed to ZHIENETH, we apply the conclusive presumption that favors children below 9 years old in that they are incapable of contributory negligence.  In our jurisdiction, a person under nine years of age is conclusively presumed to have acted without discernment, and is, on that account, exempt from criminal liability. The same presumption and a like exemption from criminal liability obtains in a case of a person over nine and under fifteen years of age, unless it is shown that he has acted with discernment. 
  • Even if we attribute contributory negligence to Zhieneth and assume that she climbed over the counter, no injury should have occurred if we accept petitioners' theory that the counter was stable and sturdy.
  • Criselda too, should be absolved from any contributory negligence. 
    • Initially, Zhieneth held on to CRISELDA's waist, and only momentarily released the child's hand from her clutch when she signed her credit card slip. At this precise moment, it was reasonable and usual for her to let go of her child. 
    • Further, at the time Zhieneth was pinned down by the counter, she was just a foot away from her mother; and the gift-wrapping counter was just 4 meters away -  time and distance were both significant.