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[ GR No. L-15654, Dec 29, 1960 ]



110 Phil. 511

[ G.R. No. L-15654, December 29, 1960 ]




Richard A. Kleeper brought this action before the Court of First Instance of Manila to recover the sum of P6,729.50 as damages allegedly sustained by his goods contained in a lift van which fell to the ground while being unloaded from a ship owned and operated by the American President Lines, Ltd. to the pier, plus the sum of P2,000.00 as sentimental value of the damaged goods and attorney's fees.

It appears that on February 17, 1955, Kleeper shipped on board the S.S. President Cleveland at Yokohama, Japan one lift van under bill of lading No. 82, containing personal and household effects. The ship arrived in the port of Manila on February 22, 1955 and while the lift van was being unloaded by the gantry crane operated by Delgado Brothers, Inc., it fell on the pier and its contents were spilled and scattered. A survey was made and the result was that Kleeper suffered damages totalling P6,729.50 arising out of the breakage, denting and smashing of the goods.

The trial court, on November 5, 1957, rendered decision ordering the shipping company to pay plaintiff the sum of P6,729.50, value of the goods damaged, plus P500.00 as their sentimental value, with legal interest from the filing of the complaint, and the sum of P1,000.00 as attorney's fees. The court ordered that, once the judgment is satisfied, co-defendant Delgado Brothers, Inc. should pay the shipping company the same amounts by way of reimbursement. Both defendants appealed to the Court of Appeals which affirmed in toto the decision of the trial court. Delgado Brothers, Inc. interposed the present petition for review.

The main issue which this Court needs to determine is whether petitioner may be held liable for the damage done to the goods of respondent Richard A. Klepper subsidiarily to the liability attached to its co-defendant American President Lines, Ltd. as held by the trial court mid affirmed by the Court of Appeals.

Petitioner disclaims liability upon the ground that it has been expressly relieved therefrom by its co-defendant shipping company under a contract entered into between them relative to the gantry crane belonging to petitioner which was used by said shipping company in unloading the goods in question. Petitioner plants its case on Exhibit 1 (Delgado) which reads:

"Please furnish us ONE gantry to be used on hatch No. 2 of the S/S Pres Cleveland Reg. from 1300 hrs. to Finish hrs. on 22 February 1955.

'We hereby assume full responsibility and liability for damages to cargoes, ship or otherwise arising from use of said crane and we will not hold the Delgado Brothers, Inc. liable or responsible in any way thereof.

"We hereby agree to pay the corresponding charges for above-requested services."

The Court of Appeals, in holding that petitioner cannot ! disclaim liability under the terms of the above contract because it cannot elude responsibility for the negligence of its own employee, made the following comment:

"This appellant asserts that negligence of its employee, the crane operator, is within the coverage of the foregoing document. Exhibit 1-Delgado calls for one gantry 'to be used' on hatch No. 2 of the vessel. The American President Lines, Ltd., only answered 'for use of said crane.' The phraseology thus employed would not induce a conclusion that the American President Lines, Ltd. assumed responsibility for the negligence of the crane operator who was employed by the other appellant, Delgado Brothers, Inc. Responsibility was not shifted to the steamship company.

"Exhibit 1-Delgado was prepared in mimeographed form by Delgado Brothers, Inc. At best, the stipulation therein are obscure. That is a count against Delgado Brothers, Inc. And again, it must answer for the damages. O.B. Ferry Service Co. vs. P.M.P. Navigation C., 50 Off. Gaz., No. 5, pp. 2100, 2113.

"A familiar legal precept is that which states that a person is liable for the negligence of his employees. That is a duty owing by him to others. To exculpate him from liability for such negligence, the contract must say so in express terms. The contract conferring such exemption 'must be so clear as to leave no room for the operation of the ordinary rules of liability .consecrated by experience and sanctioned by the express provisions of law.' The Manila Railroad Co. vs. La Compañia Trasatlantica and the Atlantic Gulf & Pacific Co., 38 Phil., 875, 886. The time-honored hie still is Renuntiatio non praesumitur. Strictly construed and giving every reasonable intendment against the party claiming exemption, we hold that Exhibit 1-Delgado affords no protection for Delgado Brothers, Inc."

We cannot agree with the finding that the phraseology employed in Exhibit 1 would not "induce a conclusion that the American President Lines, Ltd. assumed responsibility for the negligence of the crane operator who was employed by the ofier appellant, Delgado Brothers, Inc." and that for that Reason the latter should be blamed for the consequence of the negligent act of its operator, because in our opinion the phraseology thus .employed conveys precisely that conclusion. It should be noted that the clause determinative of the responsibility for the use of the crane contains two parts, namely: one wherein the shipping company assumes full responsibility for the use of the crane, and the other where said company agreed not to hold the Delgado Brothers, Inc. liable in any way. While it may be admitted that under the first part the carrier may shift responsibility to petitioner when the damage caused arises from the negligence of the crane operator because exemption from responsibility for negligence must be stated in explicit terms, however, it cannot do so under the second part when it expressly agreed to exempt petitioner from liability in any way it may arise, which is a dear case of assumption of responsibility on the part of the carrier contrary to the conclusion reached by the Court of Appeals. In other words, the contract in question as embodied in Exhibit 1 fully satisfies the doctrines stressed by said court that in order that exemption from liability arising from negligence may be granted, the contract "must be so clear as to leave no room for the operation of the ordinary rules of liability consecrated by experience and sanctioned by the express provisions of law."

The case of the Manila Railroad Co. vs. La Compañia Trasatlantica, et al., 38 Phil., 875, invoked in the appealed decision, is not, therefore, in point. In the latter case, the evidence adduced is not clear as to the exemption of responsibility. Here the contrary appears. Hence, the doctrine therein laid down is not controlling.

With regard to the errors assigned relative to the disregard made by the Court of Appeals of clause 17 of the bill of lading which limits the amount of liability of the carrier, as well as the non-application of the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act, particularly Section 4 (5) thereof, we don't deem necessary to discuss them here. The same have already been disposed of in the appeal taken by the shipping company from the same decision, docketed as G.R. No. L-15671 (promulgated November 29, 1960), supra, p. 247, wherein we held the following:

"We are inclined to agree to this contention. Firstly, we cannot but take note of the following clause printed in red ink that appears on the very face of the bill of lading: 'IN ACCEPTING THIS BILL OF LADING the shipper, consignee and owner of the goods agree to be bound by all its stipulations, exceptions, arid conditions whether written, printed, or stamped on the front or back hereof, any local customs or privileges to the contrary notwithstanding.' This clause is very revealing. It says that a shipper or consignee who accepts the bill of lading becomes bound by all stipulations contained therein whether on the front or back thereof. Respondent cannot elude its provisions simply because they prejudice him and take advantage" of those that are beneficial. Secondly, the fact that respondent shipped his goods on board the ship of. petitioner and paid the corresponding freight thereon shows that he impliedly accepted the bill of lading which was issued in connection .with the shipment in question, and so it may be said that the same is binding upon him as if it has been actually signed by him or by any other person in his behalf. This is more so where respondent is both the snipper and the consignee of the goods in question. These circumstances take this case out o£our ruling in the Mirasol case (invoked by the Court of Appeals) and place it within our doctrine in the case of Mendoza vs. Philippine Air Lines, Inc., 90 Phil., 836, * * *

* * * * * * *

"With regard to the contention that the Carriage, of Goods by Sea Act should also control this case, the same is of no moment. Article 1753 (New Civil Code) provides that the law of the country to which the goods are to be transported shall govern the liability of the common carrier in ease of loss, destruction or deterioration. This means the law of the Philippines, or our new Civil Code. Under Article 1766, 'In all matters not regulated by this Code, the rights and obligations of common carriers shall be governed by the Code of Commerce and by special laws,' and here we have provisions that govern said rights and obligations (Articles 1736, 1537, and J.738). Therefore, although Section 4(5) of the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act states that the carrier shall not be liable in, an amount exceeding $500.00 per package unless the value of the goods had been declared by the shipper and inserted in' the bill of lading1, said section is merely suppletory to the provisions of the Civil Code. In this respect we agree to the opinion of the Court of Appeals."

Wherefore, the decision appealed from is modified in the sense that petitioner Delgado Brothers, Inc. should riot be made liable for the damage caused to the goods in question, without pronouncement as to costs.

Bengzon, Padilla,. Labrador, Reyes, J.B.L., Barrera, Gutierrez David, and Paredes, JJ., concur.

Decision modified.