Moral Damages – Exemplary Damages – When granted in strict liability tort cases
In 1995, Ernani Meñez ordered a bottle of Sprite while dining at his favorite restaurant. When he sipped from the bottle of Sprite, he immediately tasted the repugnant taste. He vomited. He reported the incident to the restaurant staff and the to the police. He then brought himself for medical treatment and he had the bottle of Sprite examined. It was later found out that the content of the bottle was kerosene. He then sued Coca-Cola Bottlers Phils., Inc. for Php7.6M in damages.
Coca-Cola moved for the dismissal of the case on the ground that Meñez failed to allege any negligence on the part of Coca-Cola and that Meñez failed to abide by the Doctrine of Prior Resort (exhaustion of administrative remedies) as he failed to file a case before the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD) before going to court. Coca-Cola argued that this is required under R.A. 3720 or An Act to Ensure the Safety and Purity of Foods and Cosmetics, and the Purity, Safety, Efficacy and Quality of Drugs and Devices Being Made Available to the Public, Vesting the Bureau of Food and Drugs with Authority to Administer and Enforce the Laws pertaining thereto, and for other Purposes. The trial court heard the case but it ruled against Meñez. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and awarded Php200k moral damages and Php200k exemplary damages in favor of Meñez.
ISSUE: Whether or not there is a need to exhaust administrative remedies for actions under Article 2187 of the Civil Code.
HELD: No. There is no need for a prior exhaustion of administrative remedies, or in this case referral to the BFAD. Article 2187 unambiguously provides:
Manufacturers and processors of foodstuffs, drinks, toilet articles and similar goods shall be liable for death or injuries caused by any noxious or harmful substances used, although no contractual relation exists between them and the consumers.
Quasi-delict being the source of obligation upon which Meñez bases his cause of action for damages against Coca-Cola, the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies is not applicable. Such is not a condition precedent required in a complaint for damages with respect to obligations arising from quasi-delicts.
The award of damages is however improper. Meñez failed to prove his case.
In quasi-delicts cases, moral damages may be awarded if there is proof of physical injuries (Art. 2219 of the Civil Code). In this case, Meñez’ evidence was insufficient to prove that he sustained physical injuries.
As to exemplary damages, these may be granted in quasi-delicts if the defendant acted with gross negligence pursuant to Article 2231. Again, Meñez failed to prove gross negligence on the part of Coca-Cola. Other than the allegation that he opened a “Sprite” bottle containing pure kerosene allegedly served to him at the restaurant, Meñez has not presented any evidence that would show Coca-Cola’s purported gross negligence. Further, there is doubt as to the content of the bottle because 36 hours had already lapsed when it was examined and the chain of custody was not established.