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Renown restaurant exec sues condo after mishap

Written by  Tribune
Monday, 16 July 2012 00:00

A noted restaurateur based in Makati City sued recently a plush condominium and its property manager, Fraser Place Manila, for millions of pesos in damages after a sewer pipe accident at the building’s third floor inundated her high-end dining place with dirty and contaminated sewer water. The accident caused severe damage to Le Bistro Vert restaurant, which eventually prompted its owner to close the dining place.

In a complaint filed with a regional trial court in Makati City, businesswoman Pacita Juan of Ecofoods of the Earth Inc., which operated high-end restaurant Le Bistro Vert, sued Forbes Tower Condominium Corp. (FTCC), owner of the Forbes Tower Condominium in Makati City, and its property manager, Fraser Place Manila.

Fraser Place Manila is operated by Frasers Hospitality Philippines Inc., which is one of the regional offices of Singapore-based Frasers Hospitality Pte Ltd. Both are under Frasers Centrepoint Ltd., a holding company of Fraser and Neave (F&N Group), which has diversified into many other business areas such as property investment and development, breweries, dairy products, glass products, publishing and printing.

Juan and Ecofoods claimed actual damages of over P10.2 million to cover the following: repairs and the replacement of equipment of Le Bistro Vert; payment for compensation of terminated employees, including their earned wages, separation pay and proportionate 13th month pay; loss of income, realized and unrealized; and brand equity of Le Bistro Vert.

The restaurateur also claimed moral damages in the amount of P500,000; exemplary damages in the amount of P200,000; and attorney’s fees in the amount of P1 million plus costs of suit.
In its complaint, Ecofoods claimed that FTCC and Fraser Place “as owner, proprietor, lessor and operator of Forbes Tower, should have been more prudent and circumspect in maintaining the structural integrity of its premises, including electrical wirings, pipes and sewers. They should have recognized the impending danger that their omission would pose to plaintiffs, to its other lessees, and to the public in general. Defendants are thus responsible for the damage caused to plaintiffs.”

Last Dec. 23, 2011, while Le Bistro Vert was packed with guests, the sewage drain pipe of Unit 306 of Forbes Tower, which was directly above Le Bistro Vert, burst and flooded the restaurant with gallons of putrid water. This forced the closure of the restaurant the day after, and it has remained closed since then.

“As a result of the unexpected and sudden closure of Le Bistro Vert, plaintiffs suffered substantial business losses. Aside from the actual loss of income arising from the closure of the business, plaintiffs had to deal with the expiration of their perishable goods stored, cancellation of bookings and reservations as well as turning down of reservation proposals, and even the payment of the salaries or compensation for their suspended and eventually-terminated well-trained employees. All of these gravely tarnished the good name and the reputation of Le Bistro Vert, which plaintiffs had worked so hard to establish,” Juan said in her complaint.

And instead of addressing their concerns as lessees, the complainants claimed that “FTCC chose to ignore” them and instead just directed them to an “insurance adjuster.” Also, citing a supposed provision in their lease contract, the building owner and the property manager claimed they could not be held responsible for accidents such as pipes bursting or leaking. But Juan and Ecofoods countered that FTCC and Fraser Place Manila were bound by their assurance that the leased premises was “structurally secure and of good condition.”

The complainants also claimed that FTCC and Fraser Place Manila had informed them that a representative of Fraser and Neave in Singapore was requesting for a meeting to discuss the incident. But the meeting never pushed through. Thus, failing to amicably settle the matter, the restaurateur opted to sue.

Juan and Ecofoods claimed that “the failure of FTCC and Fraser to maintain the leased premises in tenantable condition, and ensure that the premises are in sound structural condition, was the proximate cause of the damage” to them. “It was clearly the duty of the defendants, as lessors, to ensure that the plaintiffs, as lessees, would be able to enjoy their leased premises free from impediment or fear of structural defect,” they said.

“Further, the damage caused to the plaintiffs was directly attributable to the fault of the defendants when they were extremely negligent in maintaining their property… As proprietor, operator and lessor, defendants were tasked to see to it that the condominium remained to be structurally sound. The fact that what had burst was a sewer pipe of another unit instantly removes any contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiffs,” they added.

Prior to the sewage pipe incident in December 2011, the complainants alleged that from the months of April to October of that year, there were other building issues that plagued the restaurant, including erratic water pressure that caused damage to expensive equipment such as espresso machine and ice maker; lack or running water in restroom faucets due to trouble from old valves; back flow of water from the kitchen grease trap; failed telephone lines and internet connection that prevented credit card payment transactions; the heavy smell of paint-like or thinner-like odor spreading over the restaurant; and power fluctuations that caused damage to the restaurants’ split-type air-conditioning.

In claiming additional compensation by way of exemplary damages, Juan and Ecofoods asserted that FTCC’s and Fraser Place Manila’s “wanton failure to maintain and secure the structural integrity of the Forbes Tower building and its facility caused serious damage to the plaintiffs and pose a serious threat to the inhabitants of Forbes Tower as well as the neighborhood,” noting that the laboratory test conducted on the sample of the sewer water that leaked into Le Bistro Vert “exceeded amounts of Heterotrophioc Plate Count and Coliform Count, which are harmful to humans.”

Ecofoods and Juan also said the exemplary damages should be given them to set an “example or correction for the public good and in order to prevent other owner developers and managers from committing the same unmindful and negligent acts and delayed reply or action to the report of accident.”

They are also claiming moral damages, alleging that “the leak of harmful sewage water into the premises of Le Bistro Vert, which eventually resulted in its sudden closure, has tarnished the good name and reputation of Le Bistro Vert.”

They also said they were unsure how to explain to the customers the cause of their sudden closure “because to announce that sewage water leaked into and inundated the restaurant would certainly cast a negative cloud upon Le Bistro Vert.”

Ultimately, they claimed, because of the accident that was attributable to FTCC’s and Fraser’s negligence, all their efforts to establish the name of the restaurant and its reputation as a dining place had suddenly “come to naught.”

“The incident caused by the leak from the sewage pipe owned by defendants, and the latter’s act of leading plaintiffs on to believe an amicable settlement could be reached and then simply ignore the just demands of herein plaintiffs and the lateness of the reply of the defendants to plaintiffs report of accident, have directly caused injury to the goodwill of Le Bistro Vert as a business entity,” the complainants alleged.

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