A person entrusted with personal property is generally liable for the loss or destruction of the thing in his possession and care. The person in possession of the thing has the obligation of making sure that the thing will still be in good condition when the owner of the thing retrieves it from him. There are events however, that cause the destruction of the thing where the keeper is excused from liability. These are sometimes referred to as “Acts of God”. The Civil Code states that: “Art. 1174. Except in cases expressly specified by the law, or when it is otherwise declared by stipulation, or when the nature of the obligation requires the assumption of risk, no person shall be responsible for those events which could not be foreseen or which, though foreseen, were inevitable.” A very simple illustration of this concept is a simple case of the loss of pawned jewelry when the pawnshop was robbed.
Sicam vs. Jorge
Sometime in 1987 Lulu Jorge pawned several jewelry with Agencia de R.C. Sicam to secure a loan. Several months after, two armed men robbed the pawnshop and took away the contents of the vault including the pawned jewelry of Jorge. Since the pawnshop failed to produce the jewelry or pay the actual damages, Lulu and her husband filed a civil case against the pawnshop. The trial court ruled that the pawnshop is not liable for the loss of the jewelry. On appeal with the Court of Appeals, the RTC decision was reversed. The pawnshop appealed the decision arguing that they are not liable since the jewelry were lost by reason of robbery which is an act of God.
The Pawnshop is Liable
The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Court of Appeals saying that the pawnshop is liable and they cannot use article 1174 to exempt them from liability. Said the Court: “It has been held that an act of God cannot be invoked to protect a person who has failed to take steps to forestall the possible adverse consequences of such a loss. One’s negligence may have concurred with an act of God in producing damage and injury to another; nonetheless, showing that the immediate or proximate cause of the damage or injury was a fortuitous event would not exempt one from liability. When the effect is found to be partly the result of a person’s participation — whether by active intervention, neglect or failure to act — the whole occurrence is humanized and removed from the rules applicable to acts of God.” (G.R. NO. 159617, August 8, 2007). It was found that the pawnshop was negligent since it did not institute safety measures to ensure that robbers will not be able to take the things pawned with the shop. There was in fact contributory negligence on the part of the pawnshop so they cannot be excused.