CA junks ₧30-M suit over Serendra blast


THE Court of Appeals has affirmed the dismissal of the P30-million damage suit filed by a businesswoman against Ayala-owned real estate developer, Alveo Land Corporation, as well as one of the country’s top construction companies  and a gas supplier in connection with the 2013 explosion at Two Serendra residential condominium in Taguig  which left  four persons dead.

In a 12-page ruling, the Court of Appeals’ Fifteenth Division  dismissed the petition filed by Marianne Cayton seeking the reversal of the September 14, 2017 decision of the Regional Trial Court  (RTC) of Taguig City Branch 271.  Presiding Judge Paz Esperanza Cortes  had dismissed the civil suit due to the failure of Cayton and her counsel to appear at the pretrial of the case and their failure to file a pretrial brief under the Rules of Court.

Cayton, in her motion for reconsideration, argued that Judge Cortes committed grave abuse of discretion in dismissing the complaint for failure to appear at the pretrial and to file pretrial brief.

The petitioner claimed that she and her counsel did not receive a formal order to appear before the court other  than a text message from the court staff that the case was set for pretrial on September 14, 2017.

She added that her counsel had a valid ground to be excused at the pretrial due to a conflict of schedule in a case that the latter was handling in Tarlac City.

Cayton said the postponement of the proceedings was also sought to give time for the court to rule on her motion to consolidate.

Cayton insisted that she should have not been faulted for failing to attend the pretrial and submit her pretrial brief due to lack of official communication from the court.

In denying Cayton’s appeal, the CA noted that Sections 4 and 5, Rule 18 of the Rules of Court clearly provides that “it is obligatory upon parties to appear at the pretrial conference.”

“If the absent party is the plaintiff, then he or she may be declared non-suited and his or her case will be dismissed,” the CA said.

However, the CA admitted that in some instances, the non-appearance of a party may be excused, subject  to the sound discretion of the judge.

“Thus, unless and until the judge commits a clear and manifest abuse of discretion, his or her appreciation of a party’s reasons for his or her non-appearance will not be disturbed,” the CA said.

Although the Rules of Court should be applied with reason and liberality, the CA said, pretrial setting cannot be taken for granted.

“It is more than a simple marking of evidence. It is not a mere technicality in court proceedings, for it  serves a vital objective: the simplification, abbreviation, and expedition of the trial, if not indeed its  dispensation. Hence, it should not be ignored or neglected, as the petitioner had,” the CA added.

Cayton is the owner of 501B which was badly damaged due to the explosion which investigators attributed to gas leaks caused by “unauthorized movement” of a gas range during repairs, and “negligence” of  parties concerned.

Among those killed was Angelito San Juan, who was a tenant at Cayton’s unit when the incident occurred on May 31, 2013.

She named Alveo Land, Makati Development Corporation and Bonifacio Gas Corporation as respondents in her civil suit.

The CA earlier directed the trial court to proceed with the trial of the damage suit filed by Cayton after it affirmed the decision of the Taguig RTC denying the respondents’ motion seeking dismissal of the complaint.

Alveo Land, MDC and Bonifacio Gas  sought the dismissal on the ground that it  failed to state a cause of action against them considering that under Article 2179 of the Civil Code, the petitioner cannot claim for damages since she herself was the proximate cause of her injury.

The petitioners cited the interagency task force report which held  that the proximate cause of the gas leak was the unauthorized movement of the gas range in Cayton’s unit during  its renovation.

However,  the CA declared that it’s the respondents’ negligence that led to the explosion.

The CA noted that petitioners’ introduction of a new, highly sensitive LPG system in Two Serendra for the use of their tenants in their individual units without providing sufficient safeguards to prevent “occasional negligence” is still “an act of actionable negligence” despite the intervening acts on the part of Cayton and those that conducted the renovation of her unit.