Commercial Law,  Legally Yours

Zulueta v. Pan American World Airways, Inc.

Zulueta v. Pan American World Airways, Inc.
G.R. No. L-28589, February 29, 1972
Concepcion, C.J.

Spouses Rafael Zulueta and Telly Albert Zulueta, with their daughter, boarded a Pan American plane from Honolulu to Manila, the first leg of which was Wake Island. While on the stopover, Mr. Zulueta found the need to relieve himself and after finding the terminal’s comfort rooms full, he walked down the beach to do his business. Meanwhile, the flight was called and Mr. Zulueta’s absence was noticed. Heading towards the ram, plaintiff remarked, “You people almost made me miss your flight. You have a defective announcing system and I was not paged.”Instead of allowing plaintiff to board the plane, however, the airport manager stopped plaintiff and asked him to surrender his baggage for inspection. Refusing to comply with the order, plaintiff was not allowed to board the plane. His wife and daughter were able to proceed but were instructed to leave their baggage behind.

Plaintiff instituted the present petition for recovery of damages against respondents for breach of contract. The defendants, however, maintain that plaintiff’s reason for going to the beach was not to relieve himself but because he had a quarrel with his wife.

Whether or not the plaintiff is entitled to damages for breach of contract.

YES, the plaintiff is entitled to damages. Firstly, plaintiff’s testimony about what he did upon reaching the beach is uncontradicted. Furthermore, there is absolutely no direct evidence about said alleged quarrel. If such was true, surely, plaintiff would not have walked back from the beach to the terminal before the plane had resumed its flight to Manila, thereby exposing his presence to the full view of those who were looking for him.

Anent the request of the common carrier to inspect the bags of plaintiff, it appears that Captain Zentner received information that one of the passengers expressed a fear of a bomb on board the plane. As a result, he asked for the plaintiff’s bags to verify the bomb. Nevertheless, this claim is unfounded. The Captain failed to explain why he seemingly assumed that the alleged apprehension of his information was justified. Plaintiff himself intimated to them that he was well known to the US State Department and that the Captain was not even aware of the informant’s name or any circumstances which may substantiate the latter’s fear of a certain bomb.

Defendants further argue that plaintiff was also guilty of contributory negligence for failure to reboard the plane within the 30 minutes announced before the passengers debarked therefrom. This may have justified a reduction of the damages had plaintiff been unwittingly left by the plane, owing to the negligence of PANAM personnel, or even, wittingly, if he could not be found before the plane’s departure. It does not, and cannot have such justification in the case at bar, plaintiff having shown up before the plane had taken off and he having been off-loaded intentionally and with malice.

With all the foregoing, it is clear that plaintiff is entitled to damages from the respondent company.

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