When someone is entrusted with the care of a thing for another, it is but proper and logical that he is to be held liable in case the thing is damaged, destroyed, or lost. But if the thing was destroyed because of natural calamities or other unavoidable circumstances, the one in possession and entrusted with its care is logically excused from liability. If he however did not take the necessary precautions to avoid or at least lessen the damage then he will still be liable even if the cause is a natural disaster or the so called “Act of God”. To some religious people, they might not be comfortable with this concept of “Act of God” since it seems God is responsible for the misfortunes of people. But whatever religious beliefs we might have, this concept refers to those circumstances which are unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances. It refers to those forces that we humans cannot contend with. Therefore, if the act that caused the loss or damage is considered an “Act of God” then the one entrusted with the care of the thing is to be excused from liability. If however, by his negligence he failed to institute the proper measures to avoid damage or at least lessen it, he may still be held liable for the same.
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.