In the afternoon of 9 May 1983, CRISELDA and ZHIENETH were at the 2nd floor of Syvel’s Department Store,which is owned by petitioner Jarco Mktg. Corp. CRISELDA was signing her credit card slip at the payment and verification counter when she felt a sudden gust of wind and heard a loud thud. She looked behind her. She then found her daughter ZHIENETH on the floor, her young body pinned by the bulk of the store’s gift-wrapping counter/structure. ZHIENETH was crying and screaming for help. ZHIENETH was retrieved from the floor and was quickly rushed to the hospital where she was operated on. The next day ZHIENETH lost her speech. She died 14 days after the accident. She was six years old. The cause of her death was attributed to the injuries she sustained. After the burial of their daughter, private respondents demanded upon petitioners the reimbursement of the hospitalization, medical bills and wake and funeral expenses. Petitioners refused to pay. Private respondents filed a complaint for for actual, moral damages, attorney’s fees and an unspecified amount for loss of income and exemplary damages. Petitioners denied any liability for the injuries and consequent death of ZHIENETH. They claimed that 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.
Additionally, petitioner Jarco Marketing Corporation maintained that it observed the diligence of a good father of a family in the selection, supervision and control of its employees.
The trial court dismissed the complaint and counterclaim after finding that the preponderance of the evidence favored petitioners. It ruled that the proximate cause of the fall of the counter on ZHIENETH was her act of clinging to it. The trial court also held that CRISELDA’s negligence contributed to ZHIENETH’s accident.
Private respondents appealed the decision.
The Court of Appeals decided in favor of private respondents and reversed the appealed judgment. It found that petitioners were negligent in maintaining a structurally dangerous counter.
The Court of Appeals declared that ZHIENETH, who was below seven (7) years old at the time of the incident, was absolutely incapable of negligence or other tort. It reasoned that since a child under nine (9) years could not be held liable even for an intentional wrong, then the six-year old ZHIENETH could not be made to account for a mere mischief or reckless act. It also absolved CRISELDA of any negligence, finding nothing wrong or out of the ordinary in momentarily allowing ZHIENETH to walk while she signed the document at the nearby counter.
(1) whether the death of ZHIENETH was accidental or attributable to negligence; and
(2) in case of a finding of negligence, whether the same was attributable to private respondents for maintaining a defective counter or to CRISELDA and ZHIENETH for failing to exercise due and reasonable care while inside the store premises.
Attractive nuisance explained. One who maintains on his premises dangerous instrumentalities or appliances of a character likely to attract children in play, and who fails to exercise ordinary care to prevent children from playing therewith or resorting thereto, is liable to a child of tender years who is injured thereby, even if the child is technically a tresspasser in the premises.
The principal reason for the doctrine is that the condition or appliance in question although its danger is apparent to those of age, is so enticing or alluring to children of tender years as to induce them to approach, get on or use it, and this attractiveness is an implied invitation to such children. (Hidalgo Enterprises, Inc. v. Balandan, et al.,
We rule that the tragedy which befell ZHIENETH was no accident and that ZHIENETH’s death could only be attributed to negligence.
Anent the negligence imputed to ZHIENETH, we apply the conclusive presumption that favors children below nine (9) years old in that they are incapable of contributory negligence.
CRISELDA too, should be absolved from any contributory negligence.
former Judge Cezar S. Sangco stated:
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. Since negligence may be a felony and a quasi-delict and required discernment as a condition of liability, either criminal or civil, a child under nine years of age is, by analogy, conclusively presumed to be incapable of negligence; and that the presumption of lack of discernment or incapacity for negligence in the case of a child over nine but under fifteen years of age is a rebuttable one, under our law. The rule, therefore, is that a child under nine years of age must be conclusively presumed incapable of contributory negligence as a matter of law.