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Qua Chee Gan v. Law Union Rock - Breach of Warranty

98 PHIL 85


Facts:

>  Qua Chee Gan, a merchant, owned 4 warehouses in Albay which were used for the storage or copra and hemp in which the appelle deals with exclusively.

>  The warehouses together with the contents were insured with Law Union since 1937 and the loss made payable to PNB as mortgagee of the hemp and copra.

>  A fire of undetermined cause broke out in July 21, 1940 and lasted for almost 1 whole week.

>  Bodegas 1, 3, and 4 including the merchandise stored were destroyed completely.

>  Insured then informed insurer of the unfortunate event and submitted the corresponding fire claims, which were later reduced to P370T.

>  Insurer refused to pay claiming violations of the warranties and conditions, filing of fraudulent claims and that the fire had been deliberately caused by the insured.

>  Insured filed an action before CFI which rendered a decision in favor of the insured.


 Issues and Resolutions:

(1) Whether or not the policies should be avoided for the reason that there was a breach of warranty.


Under the Memorandum of Warranty, there should be no less than 1 hydrant for each 150 feet of external wall measurements of the compound, and since bodegas insured had an external wall per meter of 1640 feet, the insured should have 11 hydrants in the compound. But he only had 2.


Even so, the insurer is barred by estoppel to claim violation of the fire hydrants warranty, because knowing that the number of hydrants it demanded never existed from the very beginning, appellant nevertheless issued the policies subject to such warranty and received the corresponding premiums.  The insurance company was aware, even before the policies were issued, that in the premises there were only 2 hydrants and 2 others were owned by the Municipality, contrary to the requirements of the warranties in question.


It should be close to conniving at fraud upon the insured to allow the insurer to claim now as void the policies it issued to the insured, without warning him of the fatal defect, of which the insurer was informed, and after it had misled the insured into believing that the policies were effective.


Accdg to American Jurisprudence:  It is a well-settled rule that the insurer at the time of the issuance of a  policy has the knowledge of existing facts, which if insisted on, would invalidate the contract from its very inception, such knowledge constitutes a waiver of conditions in the contract inconsistent with known facts, and the insurer is stopped thereafter from asserting the breach of such conditions.  The reason for the rule is: To allow a company to accept one’s money for a policy of insurance which it knows to be void and of no effect, though it knows as it must that the insured believes it to be valid and binding is so contrary to the dictates of honesty and fair dealing, as so closely related to positive fraud, as to be abhorrent to fair-minded men.  It would be to allow the company to treat the policy as valid long enough to get the premium on it, and leave it at liberty to repudiate it the next moment.


Moreover, taking into account the well-known rule that ambiguities or obscurities must strictly be interpreted against the party that cause them, the memorandum of warranty invoked by the insurer bars the latter from questioning the existence of the appliances called for, since its initial expression “the undernoted appliances for the extinction of fire being kept on the premises insured hereby..” admits of the interpretation as an admission of the existence of such appliances which insurer cannot now contradict, should the parole evidence apply.


(2) Whether or not the insured violated the hemp warranty provision against the storage of gasoline since insured admitted there were 36 cans of gasoline in Bodega 2 which was a separate structure and not affected by the fire.


It is well to note that gasoline is not specifically mentioned among the prohibited articles listed in the so-called hemp warranty.  The clause relied upon by the insurer speaks of “oils”.  Ordinarily, oils mean lubricants and not gasoline or kerosene.  Here again, by reason of the exclusive control of the insurance company over the terms of the contract, the ambiguity must be held strictly against the insurer and liberally in favor of the insured, specially to avoid a forfeiture.


Furthermore, the gasoline kept was only incidental to the insured’s business.  It is a well settled rule that keeping of inflammable oils in the premises though prohibited by the policy does NOT void it if such keeping is incidental to the business.  Also, the hemp warranty forbade the storage only in the building to which the insurance applies, and/or in any building communicating therewith; and it is undisputed that no gasoline was stored in the burnt bodegas and that Bodega No. 2 which was where the gasoline was found stood isolated from the other bodegas.