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.”
x x x."
G.R. No. 149547, July 04, 2008, PHILIPPINE AIRLINES, INC., PETITIONER, VS. HON. ADRIANO SAVILLO, PRESIDING JUDGE OF RTC BRANCH 30 , ILOILO CITY, AND SIMPLICIO GRIÑO, RESPONDENTS.