Monday, February 27, 2012

BPI vs. IAC [G.R. No. 69162 February 21, 1992]

Facts: Spouses Arthur & Vivienne Canlas opened a joint account in Commercial Bank & Trust Comp (CBTC) with initial deposit of P2,250. Arthur Canlas had an existing separate personal account in the same branch. Upon opening the joint account, the “new accounts” teller pulled out form the bank’s files the old and existing signature card of Arthur Canlas, for ID and reference. By mistake, she placed the old personal account number of Arthur Canlas on the deposit slip for the new joint checking account of the spouses so that the initial deposit of P2,250 for the joint checking account was miscredited to Arthur's personal account. The spouses subsequently deposited other amounts in their joint account. 

As a consequence, two checks were dishonored which the Canlas’ had issued against their joint account. The bank was unable to contract the spouses because of a wrong address. 

Spouses Canlas filed a complaint for damages against CBTC in CFI Pampanga. During the pendency of the case, the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) and CBTC were merged. As the surviving corporation under the merger agreement and under Section 80 (5) of the Corporation Code of the Philippines, BPI took over the prosecution and defense of any pending claims, actions or proceedings by and against CBTC. 

RTC Pampanga rendered a decision against BPI, ordering them to pay actual damages (P5,000), moral damages (P300,000), and exemplary damages (P150,000). On appeal, the IAC deleted the actual damages and reduced the other awards—actual damages (P50,000), moral damages (P50,000) and exemplary damages (P50,000). 

Issue: Whether or not BPI is guilty of gross negligence in the handling of the spouses Canlas’ bank account. 

Held: YES. IAC decision modified by deleting the award of exemplary damages. 

The bank is not expected to be infallible but it must bear the blame for not discovering the mistake of its teller despite the established procedure requiring the papers and bank books to pass through a battery of bank personnel whose duty it is to check and countercheck them for possible errors. Apparently, the officials and employees tasked to do that did not perform their duties with due care, as may be gathered from the testimony of the bank's lone witness, Antonio Enciso, who casually declared that "the approving officer does not have to see the account numbers and all those things. “Those are very petty things for the approving manager to look into." Unfortunately, it was a "petty thing," like the incorrect account number that the bank teller wrote on the initial deposit slip for the newly-opened joint current account of the Canlas spouses that sparked this half-a-million-peso damage suit against the bank. 

While the bank's negligence may not have been attended with malice and bad faith, nevertheless, it caused serious anxiety, embarrassment and humiliation to the private respondents for which they are entitled to recover reasonable moral damages. 

However, the absence of malice and bad faith renders the award of exemplary damages improper.

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