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PEDRO J. VELASCO v. MANILA ELECTRIC CO., ET AL.

G.R. No. L-18390 August 6, 1971

J. JBL Reyes, Ponente

FACTS:

Velasco (a physician) bought three (3) adjoining lots. He sold two (2) of these to Meralco and
maintained the last one as his residence. Meralco constructed on their lots a sub-station at a distance
of 10-20 meters away from appellant’s house. The company also built a concrete wall at the sides
along the streets but put up only an interlink wire fence (previously a sawali wall) on the boundary
with appellant. An unceasing sound emanates from the substation, caused by transformers. Such,
appellant contends, constitute a nuisance which has worsened his health condition and has lowered
the value of his property, causing him to file suit against Meralco in the lower court for an actionable
nuisance under Art. 694 of the Civil Code:

A nuisance is any act, omission, establishment, business condition of property or anything else which:

(1) Injuries or endangers the health or safety of others; or

(2) Annoys or offends the senses x x x

Several witnesses came forth but their testimonies were vague and imprecise. Resort was made to a
sound level meter. The audible sound from different areas in Velaso’s property was measured in
terms of decibels.

The lower court dismissed the claim of Velasco, finding that the sound of the substation was
unavoidable and did not constitute nuisance; that it could not have caused the diseases of anxiety
neurosis, pyelonephritis, ureteritis, lumbago and anemia; and that the items of damage claimed by
him were not adequately proven.

ISSUE (as it applies to our lesson on Torts vis-à-vis Strict Liability):

W/N the sound or noise emanating from Meralco’s electric transformer constitutes an actionable
nuisance

HELD:

GENERAL RULE: Everyone is bound to bear the habitual or customary inconveniences


that result from the proximity of others, and so long as this level is not surpassed, he may
not complain against them. But if the prejudice exceeds the inconveniences that such
proximity habitually brings, the neighbor who causes such disturbance is held responsible
for the resulting damage, being guilty of causing nuisance.

The SC overturned the lower court’s finding, ruling that the sound exceeded the average intensity
levels of residences thereby constituting a nuisance of noise or sound, ruling in favor of Velasco,
and awarding him damages. Meralco was also ordered to bring down the noise level to 40 to 50
decibels or to transfer the substation.

As to the basis of the award of damages based on noise or sound as nuisance, several American
decisions are cited showing that noise is an actionable nuisance. In fact, Kentucky v. Anderson dealt
with noise emanating from electrical machinery and appliances. The determining factor, however, is
not just intensity or volume. It must be of such character as to produce actual physical discomfort
and annoyance to a person of ordinary sensibilities. However, appellant’s testimony is too plainly
biased. Nor are the witnesses’ testimonies revealing on account of different perceptions.
Consequently, sound level meters were used. As stated above, the sound exceeds average residential
decibels. Also, the testimonies of appellant’s physicians (which were more reliable since they actually
treated him, unlike the appellee’s) point to the noise as having caused appellant loss of sleep, irritation
and tension weakening his constitution. Notable lastly is the fact that in the Kentucky case, where
the nuisance was ordered abated, the average reading was 44 decibels while in this instance, the
readings include 52, 54, and 55.

The principles that the SC laid down in this case make it readily apparent that inquiry must be
directed at the character and intensity of the noise generated by the particular substation of
the appellee. As can be anticipated, character and loudness of sound being of subjective
appreciation in ordinary witnesses, not much help can be obtained from the testimonial
evidence.

(Sabi ni JBL Reyes medyo exag daw si kuya doctor Velasco)

Plaintiff Velasco is too plainly biased and emotional to be of much value. His exaggerations are
readily apparent in paragraph V of his amended complaint, signed by him as well as his counsel,
wherein the noise complained of as —

fearful hazardous noise and clangor are produced by the said electric transformer of the MEC's
substation, approximating a noise of a reactivated about-to-explode volcano, perhaps like the nerve wracking
noise of the torture chamber in Germany's Dachau or Buchenwald.

(In short, parang bulking Mayon daw ang transformer o di kaya, parang Nazi torture chamber!)

Despite the wide gap between what was claimed (referring to Dr. Velasco’s exaggerated claims of
injuries and the corresponding claims for damages) and what was proved, the SC still granted plaintiff
damages for the annoyance and adverse effects suffered by him since the substation started
functioning in January 1954. Considering all the circumstances disclosed by the record, as well as
appellant's failure to minimize the deleterious influences from the substation as required under Art.
2203 (NCC) that:
"The party suffering loss or injury must exercise the diligence of a good father of a family to minimize the damages
resulting from the act or omission in question" x x x

the Court awarded P20,000 by way of moderate and moral damages, attorney's fees and litigation
expenses in the sum of P5,000. The factual and legal issues were intricate (the transcript of the
stenographic notes is about 5,000 pages, aside from an impressive number of exhibits), and raised
for the first time in this jurisdiction.

POSTSCRIPT:

Both Velasco and Meralco filed their MRs to the Supreme Court’s decision.

Velasco’s MR argued that the SC’s main decision incorrectly assessed appellant's damages and
unreasonably reduced their amount, failing to consider his undeclared income of P8,338.20 aside
from his professional income of P10,975. Velasco claims that the damages awarded him are
inadequate considering the present high cost of living, and calls attention to Article 1250 of the Civil
Code, and to the doctrines laid down in People vs. Pantoja (supervening inflation). > The Pantoja
decision does not apply because it refers to situation covered under a contractual obligations

Meralco’s MR, on the hand, was premised on their claim that the noise emitted by its substation
cannot be brought down to the 50 decibel level imposed by the Court and the remedy of the
appellant would be to compel them to acquire and pay for the value of the house, under the so-
called doctrine of "inverse condemnation" (a cause of action against a governmental defendant to
recover the value of property which has been taken in fact by the governmental defendant, even
though no formal exercise of the power of eminent domain has been attempted by the taking agency
under a formal proceeding). > Inverse condemnation does not apply in this case because it
was not raised in the lower court, as well as the fact that Meralco is not a government agency
by a privately-owned company.

Both MR’s were denied by the SC.