Saludo, Jr. v. Court of Appeals

G.R. No. 95536, 23 March 1992, 207 SCRA 498

FACTS:

Crispina Galdo Saludo, mother of the petitioners, died in Chicago, Illinois. Pomierski and Son Funeral Home of Chicago, made the necessary preparations and arrangements for the shipment of the remains from Chicago to the Philippines. Pomierski brought the remains to Continental Mortuary Air Services (CMAS) at the Chicago Airport which made the necessary arrangements such as flights, transfers, etc. CMAS booked the shipment with PAL thru the carrier’s agent Air Care International. PAL Airway Bill Ordinary was issued wherein the requested routing was from Chicago to San Francisco on board Trans World Airline (TWA) and from San Francisco to Manila on board PAL.

Salvacion (one of the petitioners), upon arrival at San Francisco, went to the TWA to inquire about her mother’s remains. But she was told they did not know anything about it. She then called Pomierski that her mother’s remains were not at the West Coast terminal. Pomierski immediately called CMAS which informed that the remains were on a plane to Mexico City, that there were two bodies at the terminal, and somehow they were switched. CMAS called and told Pomierski that they were sending the remains back to California via Texas.

Petitioners filed a complaint against TWA and PAL fir the misshipment and delay in the delay of the cargo containing the remains of the late Crispina Saludo. Petitioners alleged that private respondents received the casketed remains of Crispina on October 26, 1976, as evidenced by the issuance of PAL Airway Bill by Air Care and from said date, private respondents were charged with the responsibility to exercise extraordinary diligence so much so that the alleged switching of the caskets on October 27, 1976, or one day after the private respondents received the cargo, the latter must necessarily be liable.

ISSUE:

Whether or not there was delivery of the cargo upon mere issuance of the airway bill
Whether or not the delay in the delivery of the casketed remains of petitioners’ mother was due to the fault of respondent airline companies

HELD:

NO to both, but TWA was held to pay petitioners nominal damages of P40,000 for its violation of the degree of diligence required by law to be exercised by every common carrier
Ordinarily, a receipt is not essential to a complete delivery of goods to the carrier for transportation but, when issued, is competent and prima facie, but not conclusive, evidence of delivery to the carrier. A bill of lading, when properly executed and delivered to a shipper, is evidence that the carrier has received the goods described therein for shipment. Except as modified by statute, it is a general rule as to the parties to a contract of carriage of goods in connection with which a bill of lading is issued reciting that goods have been received for transportation, that the recital being in essence a receipt alone, is not conclusive, but may be explained, varied or contradicted by parol or other evidence.

In other words, on October 26, 1976 the cargo containing the casketed remains of Crispina Saludo was booked for PAL Flight Number PR-107 leaving San Francisco for Manila on October 27, 1976, PAL Airway Bill No. 079-01180454 was issued, not as evidence of receipt of delivery of the cargo on October 26, 1976, but merely as a confirmation of the booking thus made for the San Francisco-Manila flight scheduled on October 27, 1976. Actually, it was not until October 28, 1976 that PAL received physical delivery of the body at San Francisco, as duly evidenced by the Interline Freight Transfer Manifest of the American Airline Freight System and signed for by Virgilio Rosales at 1945H, or 7:45 P.M. on said date.

Explicit is the rule under Article 1736 of the Civil Code that the extraordinary responsibility of the common carrier begins from the time the goods are delivered to the carrier. This responsibility remains in full force and effect even when they are temporarily unloaded or stored in transit, unless the shipper or owner exercises the right of stoppage in transitu, and terminates only after the lapse of a reasonable time for the acceptance, of the goods by the consignee or such other person entitled to receive them. And, there is delivery to the carrier when the goods are ready for and have been placed in the exclusive possession, custody and control of the carrier for the purpose of their immediate transportation and the carrier has accepted them. Where such a delivery has thus been accepted by the carrier, the liability of the common carrier commences eo instanti.

Hence, while we agree with petitioners that the extraordinary diligence statutorily required to be observed by the carrier instantaneously commences upon delivery of the goods thereto, for such duty to commence there must in fact have been delivery of the cargo subject of the contract of carriage. Only when such fact of delivery has been unequivocally established can the liability for loss, destruction or deterioration of goods in the custody of the carrier, absent the excepting causes under Article 1734, attach and the presumption of fault of the carrier under Article 1735 be invoked.

As already demonstrated, the facts in the case at bar belie the averment that there was delivery of the cargo to the carrier on October 26, 1976. Rather, as earlier explained, the body intended to be shipped as agreed upon was really placed in the possession and control of PAL on October 28, 1976 and it was from that date that private respondents became responsible for the agreed cargo under their undertakings in PAL Airway Bill No. 079-01180454. Consequently, for the switching of caskets prior thereto which was not caused by them, and subsequent events caused thereby, private respondents cannot be held liable.

The oft-repeated rule regarding a carrier’s liability for delay is that in the absence of a special contract, a carrier is not an insurer against delay in transportation of goods. When a common carrier undertakes to convey goods, the law implies a contract that they shall be delivered at destination within a reasonable time, in the absence, of any agreement as to the time of delivery. But where a carrier has made an express contract to transport and deliver property within a specified time, it is bound to fulfill its contract and is liable for any delay, no matter from what cause it may have arisen. This result logically follows from the well-settled rule that where the law creates a duty or charge, and the party is disabled from performing it without any default in himself, and has no remedy over, then the law will excuse him, but where the party by his own contract creates a duty or charge upon himself, he is bound to make it good notwithstanding any accident or delay by inevitable necessity because he might have provided against it by contract. Whether or not there has been such an undertaking on the part of the carrier to be determined from the circumstances surrounding the case and by application of the ordinary rules for the interpretation of contracts.

Echoing the findings of the trial court, the respondent court correctly declared that —
In a similar case of delayed delivery of air cargo under a very similar stipulation contained in the airway bill which reads: “The carrier does not obligate itself to carry the goods by any specified aircraft or on a specified time. Said carrier being hereby authorized to deviate from the route of the shipment without any liability therefor”, our Supreme Court ruled that common carriers are not obligated by law to carry and to deliver merchandise, and persons are not vested with the right to prompt delivery, unless such common carriers previously assume the obligation. Said rights and obligations are created by a specific contract entered into by the parties (Mendoza vs. PAL, 90 Phil. 836).
There is no showing by plaintiffs that such a special or specific contract had been entered into between them and the defendant airline companies.
And this special contract for prompt delivery should call the attention of the carrier to the circumstances surrounding the case and the approximate amount of damages to be suffered in case of delay (See Mendoza vs. PAL, supra). There was no such contract entered into in the instant case.”
A common carrier undertaking to transport property has the implicit duty to carry and deliver it within reasonable time, absent any particular stipulation regarding time of delivery, and to guard against delay. In case of any unreasonable delay, the carrier shall be liable for damages immediately and proximately resulting from such neglect of duty. As found by the trial court, the delay in the delivery of the remains of Crispina Saludo, undeniable and regrettable as it was, cannot be attributed to the fault, negligence or malice of private respondents,a conclusion concurred in by respondent court and which we are not inclined to disturb.

*Case digest by Kharla Angelique B. Ko-Tubat, LLB-4, Andres Bonifacio Law School, SY 2018-2019

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