Thursday, February 02, 2012

Consunji vs. Court of Appeals, G. R. No. 137873, April 20, 2001

Facts : Jose Juego, a construction worker of D. M. Consunji, Inc., fell 14 floors from the Renaissance Tower, Pasig City to his death. He was crushed to death when the platform he was then on board and performing work, fell. And the falling of the platform was due to the removal or getting loose of the pin which was merely inserted to the connecting points of the chain block and platform but without a safety lock. Jose Juego’s widow, Maria, filed in the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Pasig a complaint for damages against the deceased’s employer, D.M. Consunji, Inc.

The employer raised, among other defenses, the widow’s prior availment of the benefits from the State Insurance Fund. Respondent avers, among others that the widow cannot recover for from the company anymore an civil damages on the account that it has recovered damages under the Labor Code.

After trial, the RTC rendered a decision in favor of the widow and awarded actual and compensatory damages. On appeal, the CA affirmed the RTC in toto.

Issue: Whether or not private respondent is barred from availing of death benefits under the Civil Code after recovering from damages provided for under the Labor Code. 

Held: The Supreme Court has already ruled in various cases that a recovery of damages under the Worker’s Compensation Act is a bar to a recovery under an ordinary civil action. It ruled that an injured worker has a choice of either remedies. The Supreme Court allowed some exceptions. In the case at bar, the CA ruled that the widow had a right to file an ordinary action for civil actions because she was not aware and was ignorant of her rights and courses of action.

When a party having knowledge of the facts makes an election between inconsistent remedies, the election is final and bars any action, suit, or proceeding inconsistent with the elected remedy, in the absence of fraud by the other party. The first act of election acts as a bar. Equitable in nature, the doctrine of election of remedies is designed to mitigate possible unfairness to both parties. It rests on the moral premise that it is fair to hold people responsible for their choices. The purpose of the doctrine is not to prevent any recourse to any remedy, but to prevent a double redress for a single wrong. The choice of a party between inconsistent remedies results in a waiver by election.

However, waiver requires a knowledge of the facts basic to the exercise of the right waived, with an awareness of its consequences. That a waiver is made knowingly and intelligently must be illustrated on the record or by the evidence. A person makes a knowing and intelligent waiver when that person knows that a right exists and has adequate knowledge upon which to make an intelligent decision.

In the case at bar, the widow was not aware of her rights and remedies and thus her election to claim from the Insurance Fund does not constitute a waiver on her part to claim from the petitioner-company. Petitioner’s argument that Art 3 of the New Civil Code, stating that “Ignorance of the law excuses no one” cannot stand. The Supreme Court ruled that the application of Article 3 is limited to mandatory and prohibitory laws. This may be deduced from the language of the provision, which, notwithstanding a person’s ignorance, does not excuse his or her compliance with the laws. The rule in Floresca allowing private respondent a choice of remedies is neither mandatory nor prohibitory. Accordingly, her ignorance thereof cannot be held against her .


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