My nephew got bitten by the dog in our neighbor’s house. Somehow the dog got out of our neighbor’s gate and jumped on my nephew. The owner of the house has not been living there, because he migrated to Canada several years ago. The only person living there is the owner’s cousin whom we believe is the caretaker of the house as well as the dog.
My nephew was rushed to the hospital, and it took about a week before he got discharged. We wanted to demand for the refund of the expenses which our family has incurred, but we are not sure to whom we should demand from – the house owner or the caretaker? We tried talking to the caretaker but he denies liability, even insisting that it is our fault for not looking after my nephew. Do you think we have a right to demand? Please advice.
Dear Mary Kate,
It appears that the rules on quasi-delict are applicable to your problem. As provided under the law: “Whoever by act or omission causes damage to another, there being fault or negligence, is obliged to pay for the damage done. Such fault or negligence, if there is no pre-existing contractual relation between the parties, is called a quasi-delict x x x” (Article 2176, New Civil Code of the Philippines).
Accordingly, your family may demand for the refund of the hospitalization expenses which you have incurred, provided that there are substantial proofs that the injuries or damages sustained by your nephew were all by reason of the act or omission of the possessor of the dog, and that there are also clear evidence showing the existence of fault or negligence on his part.
We say that the party responsible is the “possessor” of the dog, and not necessarily the owner of the house or the caretaker thereof, because it is explicitly stated under Article 2183 of the said law that: “The possessor of an animal or whoever may make use of the same is responsible for the damage which it may cause, although it may escape or be lost. This responsibility shall cease only in case the damage should come from force majeure or from the fault of the person who has suffered damage.”
Thus, it would be prudent on your part to determine first if the caretaker of your neighbor’s house is the actual possessor of the dog in order to attach liability to him. We believe that it will not be wise to demand from the owner of the house given the fact that, as you have mentioned, he has not been residing therein for several years due to his migration in Canada, thus negating the possibility of being the possessor of the dog.
It is likewise essential for you to establish that there was no fault on the part of your nephew because if the immediate and proximate cause of his injuries was his own negligence, then your family will not be able to recover damages. If your nephew’s negligence contributed to his injuries, the immediate and proximate cause is still that of the possessor of the dog, then your family may be able to recover damages, but the courts will mitigate the damages to be awarded. (Article 2179, Ibid.)
We hope that we were able to answer your queries. Please be reminded that this advice is based solely on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary when other facts are changed or elaborated.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org