G.R. No. 114061, 3 August 1994, 234 SCRA 717
Sometime in 1980, Juanito C. Lapuz, an automotive electrician, was contracted for employment in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for a period of one year through Pan Pacific Overseas Recruiting Services, Inc. Lapuz was supposed to leave on November 8, 1980, via Korean Airlines. Initially, he was “wait-listed,” which meant that he could only be accommodated if any of the confirmed passengers failed to show up at the airport before departure. When two of such passengers did not appear, Lapuz and another person by the name of Perico were given the two unclaimed seats.
According to Lapuz, he was allowed to check in with one suitcase and one shoulder bag at the check-in counter of KAL. He passed through the customs and immigration sections for routine check-up and was cleared for departure as passenger of KAL. Together with the other passengers, he rode in the shuttle bus and proceeded to the ramp of the KAL aircraft for boarding. However, when he was at the third or fourth rung of the stairs, a KAL officer pointed to him and shouted “Down! Down!” He was thus barred from taking the flight. When he later asked for another booking, his ticket was canceled by KAL. Consequently, he was unable to report for his work in Saudi Arabia within the stipulated 2-week period and so lost his employment.
KAL alleged that the agent of Pan Pacific was informed that there are 2 seats possibly available. He gave priority to Perico, while the other seat was won by Lapuz through lottery. But because only 1 seat became available, it was given to Perico. The trial court adjudged KAL liable for damages. The decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, with modification on the damages awarded.
(1) Whether there is already a contract of carriage between KAL and Lapuz to hold KAL liable for breach of contract
(2) Whether moral and exemplary damages should be awarded, and to what extent
(1) The status of Lapuz as standby passenger was changed to that of a confirmed passenger when his name was entered in the passenger manifest of KAL. His clearance through immigration and customs clearly shows that he had indeed been confirmed as a passenger of KAL in that flight. KAL thus committed a breach of the contract of carriage between them when it failed to bring Lapuz to his destination.
This Court has held that a contract to transport passengers is different in kind and degree from any other contractual relation. The business of the carrier is mainly with the traveling public. It invites people to avail themselves of the comforts and advantages it offers. The contract of air carriage generates a relation attended with a public duty. Passengers have the right to be treated by the carrier’s employees with kindness, respect, courtesy and due consideration. They are entitled to be protected against personal misconduct, injurious language, indignities and abuses from such employees. So it is that any discourteous conduct on the part of these employees toward a passenger gives the latter an action for damages against the carrier.
The breach of contract was aggravated in this case when, instead of courteously informing Lapuz of his being a “wait-listed” passenger, a KAL officer rudely shouted “Down! Down!” while pointing at him, thus causing him embarrassment and public humiliation.
The evidence presented by Lapuz shows that he had indeed checked in at the departure counter, passed through customs and immigration, boarded the shuttle bus and proceeded to the ramp of KAL’s aircraft. In fact, his baggage had already been loaded in KAL’s aircraft, to be flown with him to Jeddah. The contract of carriage between him and KAL had already been perfected when he was summarily and insolently prevented from boarding the aircraft.
(2) The Court of Appeals granted moral and exemplary damages because:
a.) The findings of the court a quo that the defendant-appellant has committed breach of contract of carriage in bad faith and in wanton, disregard of plaintiff-appellant’s rights as passenger laid the basis and justification of an award for moral damages.
b.) In the instant case, we find that defendant-appellant Korean Air Lines acted in a wanton, fraudulent, reckless, oppressive or malevolent manner when it “bumped off” plaintiff-appellant on November 8, 1980, and in addition treated him rudely and arrogantly as a “patay gutom na contract worker fighting Korean Air Lines,” which clearly shows malice and bad faith, thus entitling plaintiff-appellant to moral damages.
c.) Considering that the plaintiff-appellant’s entitlement to moral damages has been fully established by oral and documentary evidence, exemplary damages may be awarded. In fact, exemplary damages may be awarded, even though not so expressly pleaded in the complaint. By the same token, to provide an example for the public good, an award of exemplary damages is also proper.
*Case digest by Carolyn Kaye A. Tulang, LLB-4, Andres Bonifacio Law School, SY 2018-2019