Gacal vs. Pal Case Summary

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G.R. No. 55300
PARAS; March 15, 1990

Petition for review on certiorari of the decision of the Court of First Instance

Franklin G. Gacal and his wife, Corazon, Bonifacio S. Anislag and his wife, Mansueta, and the late Elma de Guzman, boarded a PAL flight to Manila from the Davao Airport. Commander Zapata, and five other armed members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), all passengers of the same flight, hijacked the aircraft ten minutes after take off. The hijackers directed the pilot to fly to Libya but upon the pilot’s explanation of the fuel limitations, they relented and directed the aircraft to land at Zamboanga Airport.

At the runway of the Zamboanga Airport, the aircraft was met by two armored cars of the military with machine guns pointed at the plane. The rebels demanded that a DC-aircraft take them to Libya with the President of PAL as hostage and that they be given $375,000 and 6 armalites, otherwise they will blow up the plane. The negotiations lasted for three days and it was only on the third day that the passengers were served 1/4 slice of a sandwich and 1/10 cup of PAL water. On the same day, relatives of the hijackers were allowed to board the plane but immediately after they alighted therefrom, a battle between the military and the hijackers ensued, culminating in the liberation of the surviving crew and passengers, the death of 10 passengers and 3 hijackers, and the capture of the 3 others.

Franklin G. Gacal was unhurt but his wife suffered injuries and was hospitalized for 2 days. Bonifacio S. Anislag also escaped unhurt but Mrs. Anislag suffered a fracture at the radial bone of her left elbow for which she was hospitalized and operated on. Elma de Guzman died because of that battle.

The plaintiffs filed an action for damages demanding from PAL actual damages for hospital and medical expenses and the value of lost personal belongings, moral damages, attorney’s fees and exemplary damages. The trial court dismissed the complaints finding that all the damages sustained in the premises were attributed to force majeure. Hence, this petition.

Whether or not PAL is liable for damages

NO. Under Art 1733 of the Civil Code, common carriers are required to exercise extraordinary diligence in their vigilance over the goods and for the safety of passengers transported by them, according so all the circumstances of each case. They are presumed at fault or to have acted negligently whenever a passenger dies or is injured or for the loss, destruction or deterioration of goods in cases other than those enumerated in Article 1734 of the Civil Code.

The source of a common carrier's legal liability is the contract of carriage, and by entering into said contract, it binds itself to carry the passengers safely as far as human care and foresight can provide. There is breach of this obligation if it fails to exert extraordinary diligence according to all the circumstances of the case in exercise of the utmost diligence of a very cautious person.

It is the duty of a common carrier to overcome the presumption of negligence and it must be shown that the carrier had observed the required extraordinary diligence of a very cautious person as far as human care and foresight can provide or that the accident was caused by a fortuitous event. Thus, as ruled by this Court, no person shall be responsible for those "events which could not be foreseen or which though foreseen were inevitable." (Article 1174, Civil Code). The term is synonymous with caso fortuito which is of the same sense as "force majeure".

In order to constitute a caso fortuito or force majeure that would exempt a person from liability under Article 1174 of the Civil Code, it is necessary that the following elements must concur: (a) the cause of the breach of the obligation must be independent of the human will (the will of the debtor or the obligor); (b) the event must be either...
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