Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines v. CA
This case concerns the proprietress of a school canteen which had to close down as a consequence of the big drop in its sales of soft drinks triggered by the discovery of foreign substances in certain beverages sold by it. The interesting issue posed is whether the subsequent action for damages by the proprietress against the soft drinks manufacturer should be treated as one for breach of implied warranty against hidden defects or merchantability, as claimed by the manufacturer, the petitioner herein which must, therefore, be filed within six months from the delivery of the thing sold pursuant to Article 1571 of the Civil Code, or one for quasi-delict, as held by the public respondent, which can be filed within four years pursuant to Article 1146 of the same Code.
On 7 May 1990, Lydia L. Geronimo, the herein private respondent, filed a complaint for damages against petitioner with the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Dagupan City. the case was docketed as Civil Case No. D-9629. She alleges in her complaint that she was the proprietress of Kindergarten Wonderland Canteen docketed as located in Dagupan City, an enterprise engaged in the sale of soft drinks (including Coke and Sprite) and other goods to the students of Kindergarten Wonderland and to the public; on or about 12 August 1989, some parents of the students complained to her that the Coke and Sprite soft drinks sold by her contained fiber-like matter and other foreign substances or particles; he then went over her stock of softdrinks and discovered the presence of some fiber-like substances in the contents of some unopened Coke bottles and a plastic matter in the contents of an unopened Sprite bottle; she brought the said bottles to the Regional Health Office of the Department of Health at San Fernando, La Union, for examination; subsequently, she received a letter from the Department of Health informing her that the samples she submitted “are adulterated;” as a consequence of the discovery of the foreign substances in the beverages, her sales of soft drinks severely plummeted from the usual 10 cases per day to as low as 2 to 3 cases per day resulting in losses of from P200.00 to P300.00 per day, and not long after that she had to lose shop on 12 December 1989; she became jobless and destitute; she demanded from the petitioner the payment of damages but was rebuffed by it.
She prayed for judgment ordering the petitioner to pay her P5,000.00 as actual damages, P72,000.00 as compensatory damages, P500,000.00 as moral damages, P10,000.00 as exemplary damages, the amount equal to 30% of the damages awarded as attorney’s fees, and the costs.
Whether the vendor could also be liable for quasi-delict
Yes. In her Comment, the private respondent argues that in case of breach of the seller’s implied warranties, the vendee may, under Article 1567 of the Civil Code, elect between withdrawing from the contract or demanding a proportionate reduction of the price, with damages in either case. She asserts that Civil Case No. D-9629 is neither an action for rescission nor for proportionate reduction of the price, but for damages arising from a quasi-delict and that the public respondent was correct in ruling that the existence of a contract did not preclude the action for quasi-delict. As to the issue of prescription, the private respondent insists that since her cause of action is based on quasi-delict, the prescriptive period, therefore, is four (4) years in accordance with Article 1144 of the Civil Code and thus the filing of the complaint was well within the said period.
We find no merit in the petition. The public respondent’s conclusion that the cause of action in Civil Case No. D-9629 is found on quasi-delict and that, therefore, pursuant to Article 1146 of the Civil Code, it prescribes in four (4) years is supported by the allegations in the complaint, more particularly paragraph 12 thereof, which makes reference to the reckless and negligent manufacture of “adulterated food items intended to be sold for public consumption.”
The vendee’s remedies against a vendor with respect to the warranties against hidden defects of or encumbrances upon the thing sold are not limited to those prescribed in Article 1567 of the Civil Code which provides:
Art. 1567. In the case of Articles 1561, 1562, 1564, 1565 and 1566, the vendee may elect between withdrawing from the contract and demanding a proportionate reduction of the price, with damages either case.
The vendee may also ask for the annulment of the contract upon proof of error or fraud, in which case the ordinary rule on obligations shall be applicable. Under the law on obligations, responsibility arising from fraud is demandable in all obligations and any waiver of an action for future fraud is void. Responsibility arising from negligence is also demandable in any obligation, but such liability may be regulated by the courts, according to the circumstances. Those guilty of fraud, negligence, or delay in the performance of their obligations and those who in any manner contravene the tenor thereof are liable for damages.
The vendor could likewise be liable for quasi-delict under Article 2176 of the Civil Code, and an action based thereon may be brought by the vendee. While it may be true that the pre-existing contract between the parties may, as a general rule, bar the applicability of the law on quasi-delict, the liability may itself be deemed to arise from quasi-delict, i.e., the acts which break the contract may also be a quasi-delict.