[G.R. NO. 155604 : November 22, 2007]
COLLEGE ASSURANCE PLAN and COMPREHENSIVE ANNUITY PLAN and PENSION CORPORATION, Petitioners, v. BELFRANLT DEVELOPMENT INC., Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Before this Court is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, assailing the February 28, 2002 Decision1 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CV No. 63283, which modified the April 14, 1999 Decision2 of the Regional Trial Court (Branch 221), Quezon City (RTC) in Civil Case No. Q-95-23118.
The antecedent facts are as summarized by the RTC.
Belfranlt Development, Inc. (respondent) is the owner of Belfranlt Building in Angeles City, Pampanga. It leased to petitioners College Assurance Plan Phil., Inc. (CAP) and Comprehensive Annuity Plans and Pension Corporation (CAPP) several units on the second and third floors of the building.3
On October 8, 1994, fire destroyed portions of the building, including the third floor units being occupied by petitioners. An October 20, 1994 field investigation report by an unnamed arson investigator assigned to the case disclosed:
These findings are reiterated in the October 21, 1994 certification which the BFP City Fire Marshal, Insp. Teodoro D. del Rosario issued to petitioners as supporting document for the latter's insurance claim.5
Citing the foregoing findings, respondent sent petitioners on November 3, 1994 a notice to vacate the leased premises to make way for repairs, and to pay reparation estimated at
On November 11, 1994, petitioners vacated the leased premises, including the units on the second floor,6 but they did not act on the demand for reparation.
Respondent wrote petitioners another letter, reiterating its claim for reparation, this time estimated by professionals to be no less than
In reply, petitioners explained that they could no longer re-occupy the units on the second floor of the building for they had already moved to a new location and entered into a binding contract with a new lessor. Petitioners also disclaimed liability for reparation, pointing out that the fire was a fortuitous event for which they could not be held responsible.9
After its third demand10 went unheeded, respondent filed with the RTC a complaint against petitioners for damages. The RTC rendered a Decision dated April 14, 1999, the dispositive portion of which reads:
Petitioners appealed to the CA which, in its February 28, 2002 Decision, modified the RTC Decision, thus:
Respondent did not appeal from the CA decision.13
Petitioners filed the present petition, questioning the CA decision on the following grounds:
The petition lacks merit.
Article 1667 of the Civil Code, which provides:
creates the presumption that the lessee is liable for the deterioration or loss of a thing leased. To overcome such legal presumption, the lessee must prove that the deterioration or loss was due to a fortuitous event which took place without his fault or negligence.15
Article 1174 of the Civil Code defines a fortuitous event as that which could not be foreseen, or which, though foreseen, was inevitable. Whether an act of god16 or an act of man,17 to constitute a fortuitous event, it must be shown that: a) the cause of the unforeseen and unexpected occurrence or of the failure of the obligor to comply with its obligations was independent of human will; b) it was impossible to foresee the event or, if it could have been foreseen, to avoid it; c) the occurrence rendered it impossible for the obligor to fulfill its obligations in a normal manner; and d) said obligor was free from any participation in the aggravation of the injury or loss.18 If the negligence or fault of the obligor coincided with the occurrence of the fortuitous event, and caused the loss or damage or the aggravation thereof, the fortuitous event cannot shield the obligor from liability for his negligence.19
In the present case, it was fire that caused the damage to the units being occupied by petitioners. The legal presumption therefore is that petitioners were responsible for the damage. Petitioners insist, however, that they are exempt from liability for the fire was a fortuitous event that took place without their fault or negligence.20
The RTC saw differently, holding that the proximate cause of the fire was the fault and negligence of petitioners in using a coffee percolator in the office stockroom on the third floor of the building and in allowing the electrical device to overheat:
The CA concurred with the RTC and noted additional evidence of the negligence of petitioners:
Petitioners impugn both findings. They claim that the BFP field investigation report (Exh. "P-2") and the BFP certification (Exh. "P-3") are hearsay evidence because these were presented during the testimony of Fireman Gerardo Sitchon (Fireman Sitchon) of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), Angeles City, who admitted to having no participation in the investigation of the fire incident or personal knowledge about said incident,23 making him incompetent to testify thereon. Petitioners argue that, with Exh. "P-2" and Exh. "P-3" and the testimony of Fireman Sitchon that are flawed, there is virtually no evidence left that the cause of the fire was an overheated coffee percolator. Petitioners insist that they own no such percolator.24
We find no cogent reason to disturb the finding of the RTC and CA.
The finding that the negligence of petitioners was the proximate cause of the fire that destroyed portions of the leased units is a purely factual matter which we cannot pass upon,25 lest we overstep the restriction that review by certiorari under Rule 45 be limited to errors of law only.26
Moreover, the established rule is that the factual findings of the CA affirming those of the RTC are conclusive and binding on us.27 We are not wont to review them, save under exceptional circumstances as: (1) when the inference made is manifestly mistaken, absurd or impossible; (2) when there is grave abuse of discretion; (3) when the findings are grounded entirely on speculations, surmises or conjectures; (4) when the judgment of the CA is based on misapprehension of facts; (5) when the CA, in making its findings, went beyond the issues of the case and the same is contrary to the admissions of both appellant and appellee; (6) when the findings of fact are conclusions without citation of specific evidence on which they are based; (7) when the CA manifestly overlooked certain relevant facts not disputed by the parties and which, if properly considered, would justify a different conclusion; and (8) when the findings of fact of the CA are premised on the absence of evidence and are contradicted by the evidence on record.28
The exceptions do not obtain in the present case. In fact, the findings of the RTC and CA are fully supported by the evidence.
Contrary to petitioners' claim, Fireman Sitchon is competent to identify and testify on Exh. "P-2" and Exh. "P-3" because, although he did not sign said documents, he personally prepared the same.29 What Fireman Sitchon did not prepare were the documents which his investigation witnesses presented.30 However, Fireman Sitchon emphasized that he interviewed said investigation witnesses namely, Ronald Estanislao, the security guard on duty at the time of fire; and Dr. Zenaida Arcilla, manager of CAPP, before he prepared Exh. "P-2" and Exh. "P-3."31 Hence, while Fireman Sitchon may have had no personal knowledge of the fire incident, Exh. "P-2" and Exh. "P-3," which he prepared based on the statements of his investigation witnesses, especially that of Ronald Estanislao whose official duty it was to report on the incident, are exceptions to the hearsay rule because these are entries in official records.32 Consequently, his testimony on said documents are competent evidence of the contents thereof.33
Furthermore, the petitioners are estopped from contesting the veracity of Exh. "P-3" because, as the CA correctly pointed out, "the aforesaid certification was used by appellants [petitioners] in claiming insurance for their office equipment which were destroyed by the fire."34
Even without the testimony of Fireman Sitchon and the documents he prepared, the finding of the RTC and CA on the negligence of petitioners cannot be overturned by petitioners' bare denial. The CA correctly applied the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur under which expert testimony may be dispensed with35 to sustain an allegation of negligence if the following requisites obtain: a) the accident is of a kind which does not ordinarily occur unless someone is negligent; b) the cause of the injury was under the exclusive control of the person in charge and c) the injury suffered must not have been due to any voluntary action or contribution on the part of the person injured.36 The fire that damaged Belfranlt Building was not a spontaneous natural occurrence but the outcome of a human act or omission. It originated in the store room which petitioners had possession and control of. Respondent had no hand in the incident. Hence, the convergence of these facts and circumstances speaks for itself: petitioners alone having knowledge of the cause of the fire or the best opportunity to ascertain it, and respondent having no means to find out for itself, it is sufficient for the latter to merely allege that the cause of the fire was the negligence of the former and to rely on the occurrence of the fire as proof of such negligence.37 It was all up to petitioners to dispel such inference of negligence, but their bare denial only left the matter unanswered.
The CA therefore correctly affirmed the RTC in holding petitioners liable to respondent for actual damages consisting of unpaid rentals for the units they leased.
The CA deleted the award of actual damages of
Temperate or moderate damages may be availed when some pecuniary loss has been suffered but its amount cannot, from the nature of the case, be proved with certainty.39 The amount thereof is usually left to the discretion of the courts but the same should be reasonable, bearing in mind that temperate damages should be more than nominal but less than compensatory.40 Without a doubt, respondent suffered some form of pecuniary loss for the impairment of the structural integrity of its building as a result of the fire. However, as correctly pointed out by the CA, because of respondent's inability to present proof of the exact amount of such pecuniary loss, it may only be entitled to temperate damages in the amount of
WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED for lack of merit.
Ynares-Santiago, J., Chairperson, Chico-Nazario, Nachura, Reyes, JJ., concur.
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