• Liability for failure to deliver on contractual obligations

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    Persida Acosta

    Dear PAO,
    We commissioned an electrical engineer to provide all the electrical installations in our new house. He agreed to a price much lower than what the developer of our house is giving us. Under our contract, he will provide us full electrical installations that are safe and within the standards. Upon turnover and payment of the fees, we found out that there were defects in his works, and that what he did are not actually within the standards. As such, when the power company inspected the same, they found them to be unsuitable for full and safe electricity to run in the household. We tried to contact him the soonest because we should be already living in that house after a week of his turnover, as we already vacated our former place. We called all his numbers and even went to his house but he cannot be found. We secured the much costly services of the house’s developer. Is the electrical engineer liable to pay the damages incurred under the circumstances? Do we still need to enforce our contract by filing an action for specific performance in court?
    Sincerely yours,
    Tere

    Dear Tere,
    The case of Owen Mackay vs. Spouses Caswell (G.R. No. 183872, November 17, 2014) penned by Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo can enlighten you in your situation. It stated:

    “Suffice it to say that Owen’s job was not only to finish the electrical installation work. It was likewise his obligation to do quality work and to provide quality materials to ensure that electricity would flow in the Caswell home. For the Caswells to avail of this utility, it is definitely expected that the electrical materials used should meet the technical requirements for a service entrance as imposed by the only distributor of the electricity in the area, Zameco II, so that the latter can supply residential electric service efficiently and safely to the Caswells. However, as shown above, Owen failed to execute his work in such a manner that it has no defects which destroy or lessen its value or fitness for its ordinary or stipulated use.”

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    “Under Article 1715 of the Civil Code, if the work of a contractor has defects, which destroy or lessen its value or fitness for its ordinary or stipulated use, he may be required to remove the defect or execute another work. If he fails to do so, he shall be liable for the expenses by the employer for the correction of the work. The demand required of the employer under the subject provision need not be in a particular form. In the case at bar, we agree with the CA [Court of Appeals] that Owen was given the opportunity to rectify his work. Subsequent to Zameco II’s disapproval to supply the Caswells electricity for several reasons, the court gives credence to the latter’s claim that they looked for Owen to demand a rectification of the work but Owen and his group were nowhere to be found. Had Owen really been readily available to the Caswells to correct any deficiency in the work, the latter would not have entertained the thought that they were deceived and would not have been constrained to undergo the rigors of filing a criminal complaint and testifying therein. Without doubt, the Caswells exercised due diligence when they demanded from Owen the proper rectification of his work. As correctly held by the CA, the Caswells substantially complied with the requirement of Article 1715 of the Civil Code, viz:

    To our mind, however, the effort to communicate with [Owen] effectively served as [the Caswells’]request for the former to rectify the flaws in the contracted work […]
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    Furthermore, to require the Caswells to file an action for specific performance, as opined by the RTC [Regional Trial Court], not only deprives them of hiring someone else to rectify the work but also defeats the very purpose of the contracted work, i.e., to immediately have electricity in their home. In this situation, time is of the essence.” (Emphasis supplied)

    In your situation, considering that the installations made by your electrical engineer are almost rendered useless, as the power company informed you that the same is “unsuitable for a full and safe electricity to run” in your household, you may have required the electrical engineer to rectify the defects or execute his work anew, specifically adhering to the standards. But since he cannot be found and you have exercised all possible efforts to inform him of the same, you may then make him liable to pay all the obligations and damages arising from his defective work, including the payment for the services you have secured with another party. You need not file a case for specific performance in order to do this. Your demand and notice are sufficient to prevail. In case, however, he fails to appropriately respond to your demands, you may then file the appropriate action to insist on all his liabilities.

    Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.

    We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.

    Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net

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