NAKPIL & SONS v. CA
To be exempt from liability due to an act of God, the engineer/architect/contractor must not have been negligent in the construction of the building.
Private respondents – Philippine Bar Association (PBA) – a non-profit organization formed under the corporation law decided to put up a building in Intramuros, Manila. Hired to plan the specifications of the building were Juan Nakpil & Sons, while United Construction was hired to construct it. The proposal was approved by the Board of Directors and signed by the President, Ramon Ozaeta. The building was completed in 1966.
In 1968, there was an unusually strong earthquake which caused the building heavy damage, which led the building to tilt forward, leading the tenants to vacate the premises. United Construction took remedial measures to sustain the building.
PBA filed a suit for damages against United Construction, but United Construction subsequently filed a suit against Nakpil and Sons, alleging defects in the plans and specifications.
Technical Issues in the case were referred to Mr. Hizon, as a court appointed Commissioner. PBA moved for the demolition of the building, but was opposed. PBA eventually paid for the demolition after the building suffered more damages in 1970 due to previous earthquakes. The Commissioner found that there were deviations in the specifications and plans, as well as defects in the construction of the building.
Whether or not an act of God (fortuitous event) exempts from liability parties who would otherwise be due to negligence?
Art. 1723 dictates that the engineer/architect and contractor are liable for damages should the building collapse within 15 years from completion.
Art. 1174 of the NCC, however, states that no person shall be responsible for events, which could not be foreseen. But to be exempt from liability due to an act of God, the ff must occur:
1) cause of breach must be independent of the will of the debtor
2) event must be unforeseeable or unavoidable
3) event must be such that it would render it impossible for the debtor to fulfill the obligation
4) debtor must be free from any participation or aggravation of the industry to the creditor.
In the case at bar, although the damage was ultimately caused by the earthquake which was an act of God, the defects in the construction, as well as the deviations in the specifications and plans aggravated the damage, and lessened the preventive measures that the building would otherwise have had.