Civil Law

Spouses Bernabe and Soledad Africa vs Caltex (Phil.), Inc.

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G.R. No. L-12986 – 16 SCRA 448 – Civil Law –┬áTorts and Damages – Res Ipsa Loquitur

In March 1948, in Rizal Avenue, Manila, a tank truck was hosing gasoline into the underground storage of Caltex. Apparently, a fire broke out from the gasoline station and the fire spread and burned several houses including the house of Spouses Bernabe and Soledad Africa. Allegedly, someone (a passerby) threw a cigarette while gasoline was being transferred which caused the fire. But there was no evidence presented to prove this theory and no other explanation can be had as to the real reason for the fire. Apparently also, Caltex and the branch owner (Mateo Boquiren) failed to install a concrete firewall to contain fire if in case one happens.

ISSUE: Whether or not Caltex and Boquiren are liable to pay for damages.

HELD: Yes. This is pursuant to the application on the principle of res ipsa loquitur (the transaction speaks for itself) which states: “where the thing which caused injury, without fault of the injured person, is under the exclusive control of the defendant and the injury is such as in the ordinary course of things does not occur if he having such control use proper care, it affords reasonable evidence, in the absence of the explanation, that the injury arose from defendant’s want of care.” The gasoline station, with all its appliances, equipment and employees, was under the control of Caltex and Boquiren. A fire occurred therein and spread to and burned the neighboring houses. The persons who knew or could have known how the fire started were Boquiren, Caltex and their employees, but they gave no explanation thereof whatsoever. It is a fair and reasonable inference that the incident happened because of want of care.

Note that ordinarily, he who charges negligence shall prove it. However, res ipsa loquitur is the exception because the burden of proof is shifted to the party charged of negligence as the latter is the one who had exclusive control of the thing that caused the injury complained of.

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