Lex Rex Ph

Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) vs. CA and Ernest Simke Digest

Facts

In December 1968, Ernest Simke went to Manila International Airport to meet his future son-in-law. To get a better view of the incoming passengers, he proceeded to the viewing deck or terrace of the airport. While walking, he slipped over an elevation about 4 inches high. Ernest fell back and broke his thigh bone. The next day, he was operated for about 3 hours. Ernest filed an action for damages based on quasi-delict against CAA as the entity empowered to “manage” the airport (RA 776). Aside from damages, Ernest claimed for consequential damages, lawyer’s expenses who had to go abroad for him for business transactions, and postponement of his daughter’s wedding.

RTC favored Ernest
CA affirmed RTC

Issues and Rulings

Can CAA escape liability? No

CAA argues that “the terrace was never intended to trip down people and injure them. It was there for no other purpose but to drain water on the floor area of the terrace.” To determine negligence, the trial court conducted an ocular inspection of the premises. Findings:

  • The open terrace remained unrepaired through the years
  • It lacked maintenance and upkeep
  • It accumulated pot holes caused by missing tiles
  • CA noted that it is an architectural anomaly. This is because it is neither a ramp nor a step. (These are binding and conclusive upon the SC)

It cannot disclaim liability for the negligent construction because under RA 776, it was charged with the duty of planning, designing, constructing, repairing such structures and facilities. It is duty-bound to exercise due diligence in overseeing the maintenance of the airport.

Is CAA negligent? Yes. Under Article 1173 of the NCC, “the negligence of the obligor consists of the omission of that diligence which is required by the nature of the obligation and corresponds with the (1) circumstances of the person, (2) of the time and (3) of the place. Here, the viewing deck is where people come to look for incoming passengers, and not to look down on the floor. The CAA should have ensured that there were no dangerous obstructions or elevations on the floor to prevent undue harm to the public.

Should CAA pay? Yes. “(w)hoever by act or omission causes damage to another, there being fault or negligence, is obliged to pay for the damage done…” (Article 2176). The liability of an entity to answer for damages resulting in death or destruction is upheld since the grant of the power to sue and be sued necessarily implies that it can be held answerable for its tortious acts or any wrongful act for that matter. (Rayo vs. CFI re liability of NAPOCOR in Angat Dam disaster)

Is Ernest guilty of contributory negligence? No. Article 2179 NCC provides that contributory negligence is a negligent act or omission on the part of the plaintiff, which although not the proximate cause of his injury, contributed to his own damage. The proximate cause is the defendant’s lack of due care.

The test to determine if there is contributory negligence was formulated in Picart vs. Smith (1918):

  • Did the alleged negligent actor use that reasonable care that an ordinarily prudent man would have used in the same situation? (discreet paterfamilias of the Roman Law) 
  • If not, then he is guilty of negligence.
  • The reference is not the personal judgment of the actor but the ordinary intelligence and prudence of a “paterfamilias”
  • The question should always be: “what should a prudent man do in that same situation”? Men are not supposed to be omniscient of the future. They can be expected to take care of only when there is something that suggests or warns them of danger. In that situation, could a prudent man foresee such harm? If yes, and if it can be proved that such actor ignored the suggestion, it is only then that negligence can be held to exist.

Here, Ernest could have reasonably foreseen the harm that would befall him and the step in question could not easily be noticed because of its construction as proven by the sketch in Exhibit O.

Is CAA liable for actual or compensatory damages?

Article 2199 – one is entitled to such loss suffered by him if he can duly prove such. In this case, Ernest proved it by presenting hospital bills, testimony of attending physician. The expenses of the lawyers who went abroad on behalf of Ernest because of the accident and the cancellation of the wedding was also adequately proven and supposed by the testimonies before the trial court. These are conclusive before the Supreme Court.

Moral damages?

Yes, a complainant is entitled to if he has endured physical suffering and physical injuries caused by the negligence of the defendant. #NCC/2217 and #NCC/2219

Exemplary damages

Yes. 

Attorney’s fees?

Under Article 2208, it can be awarded whenever exemplary damages are awarded. The Court has the discretion to grant the same when it is just and equitable.

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