Japan Airlines v. Court of Appeals

G.R. No. 118664, 7 August 1998, 294 SCRA 19

FACTS:

In 1991, private respondent Jose Miranda boarded Japan Airlines (JAL) flight No. JL 001 in San Francisco, California bound for Manila.

Likewise, on the same day private respondents Enrique Agana, Maria Angela Nina Agana and Adelia Francisco left Los Angeles, California for Manila via JAL flight No. JL 061.

As an incentive for travelling on the said airline, both flights were to make an overnight stopover at Narita, Japan, at the airlines expense, thereafter proceeding to Manila the following day.

Upon arrival at Narita, private respondents were lodged at Hotel Nikko Narita for the night. The next day, private respondents, on the final leg of their journey, went to the airport to take their flight to Manila. However, due to the Mt. Pinatubo eruption, unrelenting ashfall blanketed Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), rendering it inaccessible to airline traffic. Hence, private respondents trip to Manila was cancelled indefinitely.

To accommodate the needs of its stranded passengers, JAL rebooked all the Manila-bound passengers due to depart on June 16, 1991 and also paid for the hotel expenses for their unexpected overnight stay.
On June 16, 1991, much to the dismay of the private respondents, their long anticipated flight to Manila was again cancelled due to NAIA’s indefinite closure. At this point, JAL informed the private respondents that it would no longer defray their hotel and accommodation expense during their stay in Narita.

Since NAIA was only reopened to airline traffic on June 22, 1991, private respondents were forced to pay for their accommodations and meal expenses from their personal funds from June 16 to June 21, 1991. Their unexpected stay in Narita ended on June 22, 1991 when they arrived in Manila on board JL flight No. 741.

Obviously, still reeling from the experience, private respondents, on July 25, 1991, commenced an action for damages against JAL before the RTC of Quezon City.

To support their claim, private respondents asserted that JAL failed to live up to its duty to provide care and comfort to its stranded passengers when it refused to pay for their hotel and accommodation expenses from June 16 to 21, 1991 at Narita, Japan. In other words, they insisted that JAL was obligated to shoulder their expenses as long as they were still stranded in Narita. On the other hand, JAL denied this allegation and averred that airline passengers have no vested right to these amenities in case a flight is cancelled due to force majeure.

The trial court rendered its judgment in favor of private respondents holding JAL liable for damages.
Undaunted, JAL appealed the decision of the CA, which, affirmed the trial court’s finding.
JAL filed a motion for reconsideration which proved futile and unavailing.

Failing in its bid to reconsider the decision, JAL has now filed this instant petition.

ISSUE:

Whether JAL, as a common carrier has the obligation to shoulder the hotel and meal expenses of its stranded passengers until they have reached their final destination, even if the delay were caused by force majeure.

RULING:

No.
In a plethora of cases it was ruled that a contract to transport passengers is quite different in kind and degree from any other contractual relation. It is safe to conclude that it is a relationship imbued with public interest. Failure on the part of the common carrier to live up to the exacting standards of care and diligence renders it liable for any damages that may be sustained by its passengers.

However, this is not to say that common carriers are absolutely responsible for all injuries or damages even if the same were caused by a fortuitous event. To rule otherwise would render the defense of force majeure, as an exception from any liability, illusory and ineffective.

Accordingly, there is no question that when a party is unable to fulfill his obligation because of force majeure, the general rule is that he cannot be held liable for damages for non-performance. Corollarily, when JAL was prevented from resuming its flight to Manila due to the effects of Mt. Pinatubo eruption, whatever losses or damages in the form of hotel and meal expenses the stranded passengers incurred, cannot be charged to JAL.

Furthermore, it has been held that airline passengers must take such risks incident to the mode of travel. In this regard, adverse weather conditions or extreme climatic changes are some of the perils involved in air travel, the consequences of which the passenger must assume or expect. After all, common carriers are not the insurer of all risks.

*Case digest by Oscar Lim Abadies Jr, LLB-IV, Andres Bonifacio College Law School, SY 2018-2019

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