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Damages Outside Warsaw Convention Not Covered By 2-Year Prescription Period…

Simplicio was invited to participate in the ASEAN Seniors Golf Tournament, hence he purchased his passenger ticket from the Philippine Airlines with the following points of passage: MANILA-SINGAPORE-JAKARTA-SINGAPORE-MANILA. On his understanding, PAL would take them to Singapore while Singapore Airlined would take them to Jakarta. He and his companions then took the PAL flight to Singapore, arriving at 6:00 o’clock. When they checked in for the 8:00 flight to Jakarta by Singapore Airlines, the latter rejected their tickets because it was not endorsed by PAL. According to the Airlines, if they accepted their tickets without PAL’s endorsement, PAL would not pay for their passage. Simplicio tried to contact PAL’s office, but it was already closed. They were forced to purchase tickets from the last flight of Garuda, at 12:00. Upon arrival at the airport, the party supposed to meet them had already left, so they had no choice but to arrange their own transportation. He was not able to participate in the tournament the next day because he fell ill. Upon his return to the Philippines, Simplicio wrote a demand letter to PAL on December 20, 1993, and to Singapore Airlines on March 21,1994. Both airlines denied liability. Thus he filed a complaint for damages against PAL before the RTC of Dumaguete on August 15, 1997. Instead of filing an answer, PAL filed a motion to dismiss, on the ground that the said complaint was barred by prescription under Section 1(f) of Rule 16 of the Rules of Court. PAL argued that the Warsaw Convention, particularly Article 29 thereof, governed this case, as it provides that any claim for damages in connection with the international transportation of persons is subject to the prescription period of two years. Since the Complaint was filed on 15 August 1997, more than three years after PAL received the demand letter on 25 January 1994, it was already barred by prescription. The RTC denied the Motion to Dismiss. The CA also denied the petition for certiorari filed by PAL to question the denial of its motion to dismiss, hence it elevated its case to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court:

“In determining whether PAL’s Motion to Dismiss should have been granted by the trial court, it must be ascertained if all the claims made by the private respondent in his Complaint are covered by the Warsaw Convention, which effectively bars all claims made outside the two-year prescription period provided under Article 29 thereof. If the Warsaw Convention covers all of private respondent’s claims, then Civil Case No. 23773 has already prescribed and should therefore be dismissed. On the other hand, if some, if not all, of respondent’s claims are outside the coverage of the Warsaw Convention, the RTC may still proceed to hear the case.

The Warsaw Convention applies to “all international transportation of persons, baggage or goods performed by any aircraft for hire.” It seeks to accommodate or balance the interests of passengers seeking recovery for personal injuries and the interests of air carriers seeking to limit potential liability. It employs a scheme of strict liability favoring passengers and imposing damage caps to benefit air carriers. The cardinal purpose of the Warsaw Convention is to provide uniformity of rules governing claims arising from international air travel; thus, it precludes a passenger from maintaining an action for personal injury damages under local law when his or her claim does not satisfy the conditions of liability under the Convention.

Article 19 of the Warsaw Convention provides for liability on the part of a carrier for “damages occasioned by delay in the transportation by air of passengers, baggage or goods.” Article 24 excludes other remedies by further providing that “(1) in the cases covered by articles 18 and 19, any action for damages, however founded, can only be brought subject to the conditions and limits set out in this convention.” Therefore, a claim covered by the Warsaw Convention can no longer be recovered under local law, if the statute of limitations of two years has already lapsed.

Nevertheless, this Court notes that jurisprudence in the Philippines and the United States also recognizes that the Warsaw Convention does not “exclusively regulate” the relationship between passenger and carrier on an international flight. This Court finds that the present case is substantially similar to cases in which the damages sought were considered to be outside the coverage of the Warsaw Convention.

In United Airlines v. Uy, this Court distinguished between the (1) damage to the passenger’s baggage and (2) humiliation he suffered at the hands of the airline’s employees. The first cause of action was covered by the Warsaw Convention which prescribes in two years, while the second was covered by the provisions of the Civil Code on torts, which prescribes in four years.

Similar distinctions were made in American jurisprudence. In Mahaney v. Air France, a passenger was denied access to an airline flight between New York and Mexico, despite the fact that she held a confirmed reservation. The court therein ruled that if the plaintiff were to claim damages based solely on the delay she experienced – for instance, the costs of renting a van, which she had to arrange on her own as a consequence of the delay – the complaint would be barred by the two-year statute of limitations. However, where the plaintiff alleged that the airlines subjected her to unjust discrimination or undue or unreasonable preference or disadvantage, an act punishable under the United States laws, then the plaintiff may claim purely nominal compensatory damages for humiliation and hurt feelings, which are not provided for by the Warsaw Convention. In another case, Wolgel v. Mexicana Airlines, the court pronounced that actions for damages for the “bumping off” itself, rather than the incidental damages due to the delay, fall outside the Warsaw Convention and do not prescribe in two years.

In the Petition at bar, private respondent’s Complaint alleged that both PAL and Singapore Airlines were guilty of gross negligence, which resulted in his being subjected to “humiliation, embarrassment, mental anguish, serious anxiety, fear and distress.” The emotional harm suffered by the private respondent as a result of having been unreasonably and unjustly prevented from boarding the plane should be distinguished from the actual damages which resulted from the same incident. Under the Civil Code provisions on tort, such emotional harm gives rise to compensation where gross negligence or malice is proven.

The instant case is comparable to the case of Lathigra v. British Airways.

In Lathigra, it was held that the airlines’ negligent act of reconfirming the passenger’s reservation days before departure and failing to inform the latter that the flight had already been discontinued is not among the acts covered by the Warsaw Convention, since the alleged negligence did not occur during the performance of the contract of carriage but, rather, days before the scheduled flight.

In the case at hand, Singapore Airlines barred private respondent from boarding the Singapore Airlines flight because PAL allegedly failed to endorse the tickets of private respondent and his companions, despite PAL’s assurances to respondent that Singapore Airlines had already confirmed their passage. While this fact still needs to be heard and established by adequate proof before the RTC, an action based on these allegations will not fall under the Warsaw Convention, since the purported negligence on the part of PAL did not occur during the performance of the contract of carriage but days before the scheduled flight. Thus, the present action cannot be dismissed based on the statute of limitations provided under Article 29 of the Warsaw Convention.

Had the present case merely consisted of claims incidental to the airlines’ delay in transporting their passengers, the private respondent’s Complaint would have been time-barred under Article 29 of the Warsaw Convention. However, the present case involves a special species of injury resulting from the failure of PAL and/or Singapore Airlines to transport private respondent from Singapore to Jakarta – the profound distress, fear, anxiety and humiliation that private respondent experienced when, despite PAL’s earlier assurance that Singapore Airlines confirmed his passage, he was prevented from boarding the plane and he faced the daunting possibility that he would be stranded in Singapore Airport because the PAL office was already closed.

These claims are covered by the Civil Code provisions on tort, and not within the purview of the Warsaw Convention. Hence, the applicable prescription period is that provided under Article 1146 of the Civil Code:

Art. 1146. The following actions must be instituted within four years:

(1) Upon an injury to the rights of the plaintiff;

(2) Upon a quasi-delict.
Private respondent’s Complaint was filed with the RTC on 15 August 1997, which was less than four years since PAL received his extrajudicial demand on 25 January 1994. Thus, private respondent’s claims have not yet prescribed and PAL’s Motion to Dismiss must be denied.

Moreover, should there be any doubt as to the prescription of private respondent’s Complaint, the more prudent action is for the RTC to continue hearing the same and deny the Motion to Dismiss. Where it cannot be determined with certainty whether the action has already prescribed or not, the defense of prescription cannot be sustained on a mere motion to dismiss based on what appears to be on the face of the complaint. And where the ground on which prescription is based does not appear to be indubitable, the court may do well to defer action on the motion to dismiss until after trial on the merits.”


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