Shop ‘til you drop... from your injury: Who is liable? | Inquirer Business
Property rules

Shop ‘til you drop… from your injury: Who is liable?

It was like any other Sunday at this mall—an ideal day for families to bond, for everyone to run last-minute errands before the usual Monday hustle.

In the late afternoon, however, some of them clung onto their dear lives—onto the handrail, to be exact, when one escalator moving upwards suddenly slid back. They fell and toppled over each other.

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The mall’s emergency response team immediately assisted the victims to the nearest hospital, while its management and city government officials undertook to investigate the incident. No one was seriously injured, though this raises the issue of whether such injuries are attributable to an establishment’s negligence for maintaining the defective structure.

In this regard, in Jarco Marketing Corp. v. Court of Appeals, petitioner Jarco Marketing Corp. is the owner of a department store visited by one of private respondents, Criselda Aguilar, and her six-year-old daughter, Zhieneth.

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Criselda was settling her bill when she heard a loud thud. She then saw Zhieneth pinned by the store’s nearby gift-wrapping counter/structure, screaming for help. People around them quickly assisted Zhieneth in rushing to the hospital. Two weeks after the incident, however, she succumbed to her injuries.

After their daughter’s burial, Criselda and her husband demanded Jarco to reimburse the hospital, medical, and funeral expenses they had incurred. Jarco refused to pay, constraining the Aguilars to file against it and its managing employees, as co-petitioners, a complaint for damages before the Regional Trial Court (RTC).

Petitioners denied any liability for Zhieneth’s injuries and subsequent death. Among others, they claimed that Criselda negligently let Zhieneth to freely roam the premises, which was filled with glassware and appliances. Zhieneth was likewise negligent when she climbed the counter, which they claimed was made of sturdy wood with a strong support.

The RTC dismissed the Aguilars’ complaint, finding that the proximate cause of the counter falling was Zhieneth’s clinging onto it.

Upon appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the RTC’s judgment. It found petitioners negligent for maintaining a structurally dangerous counter for being top heavy and which weight was not evenly distributed or supported by its narrow base. Former employees apprised Jarco of their concerns, but the latter supposedly ignored them.

Moreover, at the time of the incident, Zhieneth was a child incapable of contributory negligence or tort. Criselda was likewise absolved of any negligence since according to the Court of Appeals, there was nothing wrong with her momentarily allowing Zhieneth to wander around while she settled her payment at the nearby counter.

Petitioners thus filed the instant petition. The Supreme Court denied it, defining at the outset an accident as an unforeseen event in which no fault or negligence attaches to the defendant. Meanwhile, negligence is the failure to observe, for the protection of the interest of another person, that degree of care, precaution, and vigilance which the circumstances justly demand, whereby such other person suffers injury.

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In this case, Zhieneth’s injuries and eventual death were attributable to petitioners’ negligence. To be sure, the Supreme Court upheld the testimony of one of Jarco’s employees assigned at the giftwrapping counter and who, upon accompanying Criselda and Zhieneth to the hospital, heard the latter tell the attending doctor that she did not come near the counter, which just fell on her. Moreover, while working at the giftwrapping counter, he noticed that it was shaky because it was not securely nailed on the floor and thus, could collapse anytime.

Another employee likewise testified on the potential danger posed by the unstable counter. While he informed some of its managing employees about it, Jarco did not act accordingly or ensure the safety of its employees and patrons.

Meanwhile, Zhieneth could not be held negligent, in view of the conclusive presumption that children below nine years old are incapable of contributory negligence. Even if she could be held so negligent, she, a frail six-year-old child, could not have caused the counter to collapse if it was stable and sturdy.

From the foregoing, the Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeals’ award of damages to the Aguilars.

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