501 Phil. 498
CALLEJO, SR., J.:
The shipment was contained in two wooden crates, namely, Crate No. 1 and Crate No. 2, complete and in good order condition, covered by Commercial Invoice No. YJ-73564 DTD and a Packing List. There were no markings on the outer portion of the crates except the name of the consignee. Crate No. 1 measured 24 cubic meters and weighed 3,620 kgs. It contained the following articles: one (1) unit Lathe Machine complete with parts and accessories; one (1) unit Surface Grinder complete with parts and accessories; and one (1) unit Milling Machine complete with parts and accessories. On the flooring of the wooden crates were three wooden battens placed side by side to support the weight of the cargo. Crate No. 2, on the other hand, measured 10 cubic meters and weighed 2,060 kgs. The Lathe Machine was stuffed in the crate. The shipment had a total invoice value of US$90,000.00 C&F Manila. It was insured for P2,547,270.00 with the Philippine Charter Insurance Corporation (PCIC) thru its general agent, Family Insurance and Investment Corporation, under Marine Risk Note No. 68043 dated October 24, 1994.
- This Bill of Lading shall be prima facie evidence of the receipt of the Carrier in apparent good order and condition except as, otherwise, noted of the total number of Containers or other packages or units enumerated overleaf. Proof to the contrary shall be admissible when this Bill of Lading has been transferred to a third party acting in good faith. No representation is made by the Carrier as to the weight, contents, measure, quantity, quality, description, condition, marks, numbers, or value of the Goods and the Carrier shall be under no responsibility whatsoever in respect of such description or particulars.
- The shipper, whether principal or agent, represents and warrants that the goods are properly described, marked, secured, and packed and may be handled in ordinary course without damage to the goods, ship, or property or persons and guarantees the correctness of the particulars, weight or each piece or package and description of the goods and agrees to ascertain and to disclose in writing on shipment, any condition, nature, quality, ingredient or characteristic that may cause damage, injury or detriment to the goods, other property, the ship or to persons, and for the failure to do so the shipper agrees to be liable for and fully indemnify the carrier and hold it harmless in respect of any injury or death of any person and loss or damage to cargo or property. The carrier shall be responsible as to the correctness of any such mark, descriptions or representations.
WHEREFORE, it is respectfully prayed of this Honorable Court that judgment be rendered ordering defendants to pay plaintiff, jointly or in the alternative, the following:ICTSI, for its part, filed its Answer with Counterclaim and Cross-claim against its co-defendant NSCP, claiming that the loss/damage of the shipment was caused exclusively by the defective material of the wooden battens of the shipment, insufficient packing or acts of the shipper.
- Actual damages in the amount of P1,740,634.50 plus legal interest at the time of the filing of this complaint until fully paid;
- Attorney's fees in the amount of P100,000.00;
- Cost of suit.
WHEREFORE, the complaint of the plaintiff, and the respective counterclaims of the two defendants are dismissed, with costs against the plaintiff.According to the trial court, the loss of the shipment contained in Crate No. 1 was due to the internal defect and weakness of the materials used in the fabrication of the crates. The middle wooden batten had a hole (bukong-bukong). The trial court rejected the certification of the shipper, stating that the shipment was properly packed and secured, as mere hearsay and devoid of any evidentiary weight, the affiant not having testified.
WHEREFORE, the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 35, dated February 17, 1997, is AFFIRMED.The appellate court held, inter alia, that it was bound by the finding of facts of the RTC, especially so where the evidence in support thereof is more than substantial. It ratiocinated that the loss of the shipment was due to an excepted cause — "[t]he character of the goods or defects in the packing or in the containers" and the failure of the shipper to indicate signs to notify the stevedores that extra care should be employed in handling the shipment. It blamed the shipper for its failure to use materials of stronger quality to support the heavy machines and to indicate an arrow in the middle portion of the cargo where additional slings should be attached. The CA concluded that common carriers are not absolute insurers against all risks in the transport of the goods.
The petitioner asserts that the mere proof of receipt of the shipment by the common carrier (to the carrier) in good order, and their arrival at the place of destination in bad order makes out a prima facie case against it; in such case, it is liable for the loss or damage to the cargo absent satisfactory explanation given by the carrier as to the exercise of extraordinary diligence. The petitioner avers that the shipment was sufficiently packed in wooden boxes, as shown by the fact that it was accepted on board the vessel and arrived in Manila safely. It emphasizes that the respondents did not contest the contents of the bill of lading, and that the respondents knew that the manner and condition of the packing of the cargo was normal and barren of defects. It maintains that it behooved the respondent ICTSI to place three to four cables or wire slings in equal settings, including the center portion of the crate to prevent damage to the cargo:I.
THE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED SERIOUS ERROR OF LAW IN NOT HOLDING THAT RESPONDENT COMMON CARRIER IS LIABLE FOR THE DAMAGE SUSTAINED BY THE SHIPMENT IN THE POSSESSION OF THE ARRASTRE OPERATOR.II.
THE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED SERIOUS ERROR OF LAW IN NOT APPLYING THE STATUTORY PRESUMPTION OF FAULT AND NEGLIGENCE IN THE CASE AT BAR.III.
THE COURT OF APPEALS GROSSLY MISCOMPREHENDED THE FACTS IN FINDING THAT THE DAMAGE SUSTAINED BY THE [SHIPMENT] WAS DUE TO ITS DEFECTIVE PACKING AND NOT TO THE FAULT AND NEGLIGENCE OF THE RESPONDENTS.
. . . [A] simple look at the manifesto of the cargo and the bill of lading would have alerted respondents of the nature of the cargo consisting of thick and heavy machinery. Extra-care should have been made and extended in the discharge of the subject shipment. Had the respondent only bothered to check the list of its contents, they would have been nervous enough to place additional slings and cables to support those massive machines, which were composed almost entirely of thick steel, clearly intended for heavy industries. As indicated in the list, the boxes contained one lat[h]e machine, one milling machine and one grinding machine-all coming with complete parts and accessories. Yet, not one among the respondents were cautious enough. Here lies the utter failure of the respondents to observed extraordinary diligence in the handling of the cargo in their custody and possession, which the Court of Appeals should have readily observed in its appreciation of the pertinent facts.The petitioner posits that the loss/damage was caused by the mishandling of the shipment by therein respondent ICTSI, the arrastre operator, and not by its negligence.
The extraordinary diligence in the vigilance over the goods tendered for shipment requires the common carrier to know and to follow the required precaution for avoiding damage to, or destruction of the goods entrusted to it for sale, carriage and delivery. It requires common carriers to render service with the greatest skill and foresight and "to use all reasonable means to ascertain the nature and characteristic of goods tendered for shipment, and to exercise due care in the handling and stowage, including such methods as their nature requires."The common carrier's duty to observe the requisite diligence in the shipment of goods lasts from the time the articles are surrendered to or unconditionally placed in the possession of, and received by, the carrier for transportation until delivered to, or until the lapse of a reasonable time for their acceptance, by the person entitled to receive them. When the goods shipped are either lost or arrive in damaged condition, a presumption arises against the carrier of its failure to observe that diligence, and there need not be an express finding of negligence to hold it liable. To overcome the presumption of negligence in the case of loss, destruction or deterioration of the goods, the common carrier must prove that it exercised extraordinary diligence.
It bears stressing that the enumeration in Article 1734 of the New Civil Code which exempts the common carrier for the loss or damage to the cargo is a closed list. To exculpate itself from liability for the loss/damage to the cargo under any of the causes, the common carrier is burdened to prove any of the aforecited causes claimed by it by a preponderance of evidence. If the carrier succeeds, the burden of evidence is shifted to the shipper to prove that the carrier is negligent.
- Flood, storm, earthquake, lightning or other natural disaster or calamity;
- Act of the public enemy in war, whether international or civil;
- Act or omission of the shipper or owner of the goods;
- The character of the goods or defects in the packing or in the containers;
- Order or act of competent public authority.
The same may be said with respect to defendant ICTSI. The breakage and collapse of Crate No. 1 and the total destruction of its contents were not imputable to any fault or negligence on the part of said defendant in handling the unloading of the cargoes from the carrying vessel, but was due solely to the inherent defect and weakness of the materials used in the fabrication of said crate.The CA affirmed the ruling of the RTC, thus:
The crate should have three solid and strong wooden batten placed side by side underneath or on the flooring of the crate to support the weight of its contents. However, in the case of the crate in dispute, although there were three wooden battens placed side by side on its flooring, the middle wooden batten, which carried substantial volume of the weight of the crate's contents, had a knot hole or "bukong-bukong," which considerably affected, reduced and weakened its strength. Because of the enormous weight of the machineries inside this crate, the middle wooden batten gave way and collapsed. As the combined strength of the other two wooden battens were not sufficient to hold and carry the load, they too simultaneously with the middle wooden battens gave way and collapsed (TSN, Sept. 26, 1996, pp. 20-24).
Crate No. 1 was provided by the shipper of the machineries in Seoul, Korea. There is nothing in the record which would indicate that defendant ICTSI had any role in the choice of the materials used in fabricating this crate. Said defendant, therefore, cannot be held as blame worthy for the loss of the machineries contained in Crate No. 1.
The case at bar falls under one of the exceptions mentioned in Article 1734 of the Civil Code, particularly number (4) thereof, i.e., the character of the goods or defects in the packing or in the containers. The trial court found that the breakage of the crate was not due to the fault or negligence of ICTSI, but to the inherent defect and weakness of the materials used in the fabrication of the said crate.We agree with the trial and appellate courts.
Upon examination of the records, We find no compelling reason to depart from the factual findings of the trial court.
It appears that the wooden batten used as support for the flooring was not made of good materials, which caused the middle portion thereof to give way when it was lifted. The shipper also failed to indicate signs to notify the stevedores that extra care should be employed in handling the shipment.
Claudio Cansino, a stevedore of ICTSI, testified before the court their duties and responsibilities:Appellant's allegation that since the cargo arrived safely from the port of [P]usan, Korea without defect, the fault should be attributed to the arrastre operator who mishandled the cargo, is without merit. The cargo fell while it was being carried only at about five (5) feet high above the ground. It would not have so easily collapsed had the cargo been properly packed. The shipper should have used materials of stronger quality to support the heavy machines. Not only did the shipper fail to properly pack the cargo, it also failed to indicate an arrow in the middle portion of the cargo where additional slings should be attached. At any rate, the issue of negligence is factual in nature and in this regard, it is settled that factual findings of the lower courts are entitled to great weight and respect on appeal, and, in fact, accorded finality when supported by substantial evidence.
"Q: With regard to crates, what do you do with the crates? A: Everyday with the crates, there is an arrow drawn where the sling is placed, Ma'am. Q: When the crates have arrows drawn and where you placed the slings, what do you do with these crates? A sling is placed on it, Ma'am. Q: After you placed the slings, what do you do with the crates? A: After I have placed a sling properly, I ask the crane (sic) to haul it, Ma'am. . . . Q: Now, what, if any, were written or were marked on the crate? A: The thing that was marked on the cargo is an arrow just like of a chain, Ma'am. Q: And where did you see or what parts of the crate did you see those arrows? A: At the corner of the crate, Ma'am. Q: How many arrows did you see? A: Four (4) on both sides, Ma'am. . . . Q: What did you do with the arrows? A: When I saw the arrows, that's where I placed the slings, Ma'am. . . . Q: Now, did you find any other marks on the crate? A: Nothing more, Ma'am. Q: Now, Mr. Witness, if there are no arrows, would you place slings on the parts where there are no arrows? A: You can not place slings if there are no arrows, Ma'am."