Ocean Builders v. Cubacub (G.R. No. 150898; April 13, 2011)


FACTS: Bladimir Cubacub (Bladimir) was employed as maintenance man by petitioner company Ocean Builders Construction Corp. at its office in Caloocan City. Bladimir was afflicted with chicken pox. Thus, he was advised by petitioner Dennis Hao (Hao), the company’s general manager, to rest for three days which he did at the company’s “barracks” where he lives free of charge.

Three days later, Bladimir went about his usual chores of manning the gate of the company premises and even cleaned the company vehicles. Later in the afternoon, Hao gave Bladimir P1,000.00 and ordered Silangga, a co-worker, to bring Bladimir to the nearest hospital.

Bladimir was brought to the Caybiga Community Hospital (Caybiga Hospital), a primary-care hospital around one kilometer away from the office of the company. He was then confined and was not permitted to leave the hospital. He was then transferred to the Quezon City General Hospital (QCGH) by his parents where he was placed in the intensive care unit and died the following day.

The death certificate issued by the QCGH recorded Bladimir’s immediate cause of death as cardio-respiratory arrest and the antecedent cause as pneumonia. On the other hand, the death certificate issued by Dr. Frias recorded the causes of death as cardiac arrest, multiple organ system failure, septicemia and chicken pox.

Bladimir’s parents filed before the RTC complaint for damages against petitioners, alleging that Hao was guilty of negligence which resulted in the deterioration of Bladimir’s condition leading to his death. The court dismissed the complaint and ruled that Hao was not negligent.

On appeal, the CA reversed the decision of the lower court and ruled that Hao’s failure to bring Bladimir to a better-equipped hospital constituted a violation of Article 161 of the Labor Code. Thus, making them liable for damages.

ISSUE: Did Hao exercise the diligence more than what the law requires, hence, not liable for damages?
HELD: To successfully prosecute an action anchored on torts, three elements must be present, viz: (1) duty (2) breach (3) injury and proximate causation. The assailed decision of the appellate court held that it was the duty of petitioners to provide adequate medical assistance to the employees under Art. 161 of the Labor Code, failing which a breach is committed.The Implementing Rules of the Code do not enlighten what the phrase “adequate and immediate” medical attendance means in relation to an “emergency.” It would thus appear that the determination of what it means is left to the employer, except when a full-time registered nurse or physician are available on-site as required, also under the Labor Code.

The Court determined that the actions taken by petitioners when Bladimir became ill, to take a 3-day rest and to later have him brought to the nearest hospital, amounted to the “necessary assistance” to ensure “adequate and immediate medical attendance” to Bladimir as required under Art. 161 of the Labor Code, to provide to a sick employee in an emergency.

Chicken pox is self-limiting. Hao does not appear to have a medical background. He may not be thus expected to have known that Bladimir needed to be brought to a hospital with better facilities than the Caybiga Hospital, contrary to appellate court’s ruling.

Moreover, the alleged negligence of Hao cannot be considered as the proximate cause of the death of Bladimir. Proximate cause is that which, in natural and continuous sequence, unbroken by an efficient intervening cause, produces injury, and without which, the result would not have occurred. An injury or damage is proximately caused by an act or failure to act, whenever it appears from the evidence in the case that the act or omission played a substantial part in bringing about or actually causing the injury or damage, and that the injury or damage was either a direct result or a reasonably probable consequence of the act or omission. Thus, the petitioners are not guilty of negligence. GRANTED.