REYNALDA GATCHALIAN vs. ARSENIO DELIM and the HON. COURT OF APPEALS

Posted: March 23, 2017 in Uncategorized

REYNALDA GATCHALIAN vs. ARSENIO DELIM and the HON. COURT OF APPEALS

G.R. No. L-56487

October 21, 1991

 

FACTS: At noon time on 11 July 1973, petitioner Reynalda Gatchalian boarded, as a paying passenger, respondent’s “Thames” mini bus at a point in San Eugenio, Aringay, La Union, bound for Bauang, of the same province. On the way, while the bus was running along the highway in Barrio Payocpoc, Bauang, Union, “a snapping sound” was suddenly heard at one part of the bus and, shortly thereafter, the vehicle bumped a cement flower pot on the side of the road, went off the road, turned turtle and fell into a ditch. Several passengers, including petitioner Gatchalian, were injured. They were promptly taken to Bethany Hospital at San Fernando, La Union, for medical treatment. Upon medical examination, petitioner was found to have sustained physical injuries on the leg, arm and forehead, specifically described as follows: lacerated wound, forehead; abrasion, elbow, left; abrasion, knee, left; abrasion, lateral surface, leg, left. On 14 July 1973, while injured, passengers were confined in the hospital, Mrs. Adela Delim, wife of respondent, visited them and later paid for their hospitalization and medical expenses. She also gave petitioner P12.00 with which to pay her transportation expense in going home from the hospital. However, before Mrs. Delim left, she had the injured passengers, including petitioner, sign an already prepared Joint Affidavit which stated that “we are no longer interested to file a complaint, criminal or civil against the said driver and owner of the said Thames, because it was an accident and the said driver and owner of the said Thames have gone to the extent of helping us to be treated upon our injuries.”

 

Notwithstanding this document, petitioner Gathalian filed with the then Court of First Instance of La Union an action extra contractu to recover compensatory and moral damages. She alleged in the complaint that her injuries sustained from the vehicular mishap had left her with a conspicuous white scar measuring 1 by 1/2 inches on the forehead, generating mental suffering and an inferiority complex on her part; and that as a result, she had to retire in seclusion and stay away from her friends. She also alleged that the scar diminished her facial beauty and deprived her of opportunities for employment. She prayed for an award of: P10,000.00 for loss of employment and other opportunities; P10,000.00 for the cost of plastic surgery for removal of the scar on her forehead; P30,000.00 for moral damages; and P1,000.00 as attorney’s fees.

 

After trial, the trial court dismissed the complaint upon the ground that when petitioner Gatchalian signed the Joint Affidavit, she relinquished any right of action (whether criminal or civil) that she may have had against respondent and the driver of the mini-bus. On appeal by petitioner, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s conclusion that there had been a valid waiver, but affirmed the dismissal of the case by denying petitioner’s claim for damages.

 

ISSUE: Whether award of actual or compensatory damages as well as moral damages is proper.

 

HELD: YES.

 

RATIO: No valid waiver of her cause of action had been made by petitioner. A waiver, to be valid and effective, must in the first place be couched in clear and unequivocal terms which leave no doubt as to the intention of a person to give up a right or benefit which legally pertains to him. A waiver may not casually be attributed to a person when the terms thereof do not explicitly and clearly evidence an intent to abandon a right vested in such person. The terms of the Joint Affidavit in the instant case cannot be regarded as a waiver cast in “clear and unequivocal” terms. Moreover, the circumstances under which the Joint Affidavit was signed by petitioner Gatchalian need to be considered. Petitioner testified that she was still reeling from the effects of the vehicular accident, having been in the hospital for only three days, when the purported waiver in the form of the Joint Affidavit was presented to her for signing; that while reading the same, she experienced dizziness but that, seeing the other passengers who had also suffered injuries sign the document, she too signed without bothering to read the Joint Affidavit in its entirety. Considering these circumstances there appears substantial doubt whether petitioner understood fully the import of the Joint Affidavit (prepared by or at the instance of private respondent) she signed and whether she actually intended thereby to waive any right of action against private respondent.

A duty to exercise extraordinary diligence in protecting the safety of its passengers is imposed upon a common carrier.  In case of death or injuries to passengers, a statutory presumption arises that the common carrier was at fault or had acted negligently “unless it proves that it [had] observed extraordinary diligence as prescribed in Articles 1733 and 1755.”  In fact, because of this statutory presumption, it has been held that a court need not even make an express finding of fault or negligence on the part of the common carrier in order to hold it liable. 9 To overcome this presumption, the common carrier must slow to the court that it had exercised extraordinary diligence to prevent the injuries. The standard of extraordinary diligence imposed upon common carriers is considerably more demanding than the standard of ordinary diligence,i.e., the diligence of a good paterfamilias established in respect of the ordinary relations between members of society. A common carrier is bound to carry its passengers safely” as far as human care and foresight can provide, using the utmost diligence of a very cautious person, with due regard to all the circumstances”. Thus, the question which must be addressed is whether or not private respondent has successfully proved that he had exercised extraordinary diligence to prevent the mishap involving his mini-bus. The records before the Court are bereft of any evidence showing that respondent had exercised the extraordinary diligence required by law. Curiously, respondent did not even attempt, during the trial before the court a quo, to prove that he had indeed exercised the requisite extraordinary diligence. Respondent did try to exculpate himself from liability by alleging that the mishap was the result of force majeure. But allegation is not proof and here again, respondent utterly failed to substantiate his defense of force majeure. To exempt a common carrier from liability for death or physical injuries to passengers upon the ground of force majeure, the carrier must clearly show not only that the efficient cause of the casualty was entirely independent of the human will, but also that it was impossible to avoid. Any participation by the common carrier in the occurrence of the injury will defeat the defense of force majeure.

 

We turn to petitioner’s claim for damages. The first item in that claim relates to revenue which petitioner said she failed to realize because of the effects of the vehicular mishap. Petitioner maintains that on the day that the mini-bus went off the road, she was supposed to confer with the district supervisor of public schools for a substitute teacher’s job, a job which she had held off and on as a “casual employee.” The Court of Appeals, however, found that at the time of the accident, she was no longer employed in a public school since, being a casual employee and not a Civil Service eligible, she had been laid off. Her employment as a substitute teacher was occasional and episodic, contingent upon the availability of vacancies for substitute teachers. In view of her employment status as such, the Court of Appeals held that she could not be said to have in fact lost any employment after and by reason of the accident.  Such was the factual finding of the Court of Appeals, a finding entitled to due respect from this Court. Petitioner Gatchalian has not submitted any basis for overturning this finding of fact, and she may not be awarded damages on the basis of speculation or conjecture.

 

Petitioner’s claim for the cost of plastic surgery for removal of the scar on her forehead, is another matter. A person is entitled to the physical integrity of his or her body; if that integrity is violated or diminished, actual injury is suffered for which actual or compensatory damages are due and assessable. Petitioner Gatchalian is entitled to be placed as nearly as possible in the condition that she was before the mishap. A scar, especially one on the face of the woman, resulting from the infliction of injury upon her, is a violation of bodily integrity, giving raise to a legitimate claim for restoration to her conditio ante. If the scar is relatively small and does not grievously disfigure the victim, the cost of surgery may be expected to be correspondingly modest.

 

Petitioner estimated that the cost of having her scar surgically removed was somewhere between P10,000.00 to P15,000.00.  Upon the other hand, Dr. Fe Tayao Lasam, a witness presented as an expert by petitioner, testified that the cost would probably be between P5,000.00 to P10,000.00. In view of this testimony, and the fact that a considerable amount of time has lapsed since the mishap in 1973 which may be expected to increase not only the cost but also very probably the difficulty of removing the scar, we consider that the amount of P15,000.00 to cover the cost of such plastic surgery is not unreasonable.

 

Turning to petitioner’s claim for moral damages, the long-established rule is that moral damages may be awarded where gross negligence on the part of the common carrier is shown.  Since we have earlier concluded that respondent common carrier and his driver had been grossly negligent in connection with the bus mishap which had injured petitioner and other passengers, and recalling the aggressive manuevers of respondent, through his wife, to get the victims to waive their right to recover damages even as they were still hospitalized for their injuries, petitioner must be held entitled to such moral damages. Considering the extent of pain and anxiety which petitioner must have suffered as a result of her physical injuries including the permanent scar on her forehead, we believe that the amount of P30,000.00 would be a reasonable award. Petitioner’s claim for P1,000.00 as atttorney’s fees is in fact even more modest.

 

DISPOSITIVE: WHEREFORE, the Decision of the Court of Appeals dated 24 October 1980, as well as the decision of the then Court of First Instance of La Union dated 4 December 1975 are hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE.

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