The Supreme Court rendered the 109-Tai-Shang-1438 Decision of July 23, 2020 (hereinafter, the “Decision”), holding that if the combination of the defects of a building and the act of a third party causes an injury and the owner does not meet the criteria for exemption, the owner shall be liable; and even if the third party has engaged in an act of tort, the owner of the building shall still be liable.
According to the facts underlying this Decision, Appellant A is the spouse of Victim B, while Appellants C, D and E are B’s children, and B was the legal representative of Company X. The Appellee, the owner of the property at issue, first demolished the “main beams and columns” in the middle of the arcade of the property at issue without noticing the defects and deterioration of the joint between the rain awning and the reinforced concrete of the property at issue, as well as the insufficient grip length of the reinforcement bars of the rain awning and the large exposed area of the reinforcement bars, which obviously showed defects. In addition, no structural engineer was retained to examine the structural safety to ensure stability and prevent falling before projects involving the demolition of the “light steel frames of the ceiling on the first floor” and “interior decoration” as well as the installation of the scaffolding and the dust nets were successively contracted to Company X and Company Y, not parties to this lawsuit. During the construction, when B stuck his head out of a window of the property at issue, his head was hit by the falling decrepit steel rain awning above the window (hereinafter, the “Rain Awning at Issue”), which collapsed since its weight could not be supported after the window frame was demolished. He died after first aid in the hospital. The Appellants asserted that B’s death was apparently caused by the Appellee’s obvious violation of Article 77, Paragraph 1 of the Building Law concerning the requirements for maintaining the structure and equipment safety of a building. In addition, A assumed B’s medical cost due to the accident at issue, defrayed the funeral cost together with C, and sustained the damage in the form of the costs of support. In addition, the Appellee should pay a solace to A and compensate the other appellants for their damage. Therefore, a complaint was filed to seek a court decision that compels the Appellee to pay damages to A, C, D and E in accordance with Article 184, Paragraph 1 (first part) and Paragraph 2 and Article 191, Paragraph 1 of the Civil Code.
According to this Decision, Article 191, Paragraph 1 of the Civil Code provides that an injury caused by a building or other work shall be compensated by the owner of such building or work. However, this does not apply if there is no deficiency in the installation or maintenance or if the injury is not caused by any deficiency in the installation or maintenance, or if reasonable care has been exercised to prevent such injury. The so-called “reasonable care” means the care of a good administrator. Accordingly, unless the building owner can prove that s/he has exercised care as a good administrator in the installation and maintenance of the building or the prevention of damage when s/he may be exempted from liability for damages for tort, the building owner will be presumed to have negligence pursuant to law and shall be liable for damages if another person is injured due to any fault of the building. If the injury occurs due to the combination of the defects of the building and the act of a third party when the owner of the building is not eligible for exemption pursuant to the proviso of Article 191 of the Civil Code, the owner shall be liable for compensation. Even if a third party has committed an act of tort and shall be liable to the victim for damages, still this only gives rise to the scenario where the building owner may claim compensation from such third party in accordance with Article 191, Paragraph 2 of the Civil Code after assuming the compensation liability to the victim. It is not true that the building owner may be exempted from liability.
It was further stated in the decision that according to the original trial court, the Rain Awning at Issue fell primarily because the construction did not meet the regular technical architecture specifications when the house was designed. Otherwise, the incident of a falling rain awning would not have occurred even if the joints subsequently deteriorated or were subject to other negative factors. In addition, when obtaining the ownership of the property at issue, the Appellee should have assumed the obligation to actively exclude the structural and equipment hazards of the property and restored it to a safe state in accordance Article 77, Paragraph 1 of the Building Law. If the Appellee did not retain Y to inspect and repair the defects and hazards of the external walls and the rain awning structure of the old building, this would call into question if the Appellee could be released from the obligation to maintain the safety of the building or be regarded to have exercised care as a good administrator and be exempt from the damages liability for tort because Y was contracted with the demolition for the interior decoration project. According to the examination report, the aluminum window did not have the function of supporting the rain awning according to its original design. Even if the aluminum window was removed as required, it would be difficult to avoid the fall of the rain awning. In spite of negligence for being careless when Y removed the window frame, the carelessness is merely one of the reasons why the Rain Awning at Issue fell. Its combination with the inherent defects of the rain awning structure is the cause of the injury, and carelessness is not the only or primary reason. Moreover, the safety recovery of the rain awning did not fall within the scope of Y’s contract. Therefore, whether the Appellee is not obligated to compensate the Appellants for damages should certainly be further explored. The original trial did not explain this in detail and elected to conclude that since Y assumed the complete control of the property at issue after the demolition for the interior decoration project contracted to Y was completed, Y should be solely responsible for the assessment and the construction protection measures of the property, and the owner had no way to supervise the construction. Since the original trial court was rash when it jumped to the conclusion unfavorable to the Appellants that the contractor should assume the entire liability without ascertaining if the carelessness of Contractor Y was the only cause of the accident at issue, and that the Appellants should not claim damages from the Appellee in accordance with Article 191, Paragraph 1 of the Civil Code any further. The gist of the appeal was not groundless.