Case Digest: Oceaneering Contractors vs. Barretto

G.R. No. 184215 : February 9, 2011

OCEANEERING CONTRACTORS (PHILS), INC., Petitioner, v. NESTOR N. BARRETTO, doing business as N.N.B. LIGHTERAGE, Respondent.

PEREZ, J.:

FACTS:

Barretto and petitioner Oceaneering entered into a Time Charter Agreement whereby the latter hired the aforesaid barge for a renewable period of thirty calendar days, for the purpose of transporting construction materials from Manila to Ayungon, Negros Oriental.

Barretto’s Bargeman, Eddie La Chica, executed a Marine Protest, reporting that the barge reportedly capsized in the vicinity of Cape Santiago, Batangas. Barretto apprised Oceaneering of the supposed fact that the mishap was caused by the incompetence and negligence of the latter’s personnel in loading the cargo and that it was going to proceed with the salvage, refloating and repair of the barge.

Oceaneering caused its counsel to serve Barretto a letter demanding the return of the unused portion of the charter payment. However, Barretto’s counsel informed Oceaneering that its unused charter payment was withheld by his client who was likewise seeking reimbursement for the amount he expended in salvaging, refloating and repairing the barge.

Contending that the accident was attributable to the incompetence and negligence which attended the loading of the cargo by Oceaneering’s hired employees, Barretto sought indemnities for expenses incurred and lost income before the RTC.

Alongside its claim for reimbursement of the sums expended for the salvage operation it conducted which was denied for lack of evidence to prove the same, Oceaneering’s claim for the value of its cargo was likewise denied on the ground, among other matters, that the same was not included in the demand letters it served Barretto.

The CA reversed on the ground that the agreement executed by the parties, by its express terms, was a time charter where the possession and control of the barge was retained by Barretto; that the latter is, therefore, a common carrier legally charged with extraordinary diligence in the vigilance over the goods transported by him; and, that the sinking of the vessel created a presumption of negligence and/or unseaworthiness which Barretto failed to overcome.

Applying the rule, however, that actual damages should be proved with a reasonable degree of certainty, the CA denied Oceaneering’s claim for the value of its lost cargo and merely ordered the refund of the money it paid for the time charter.

ISSUE: Whether or not the CA erred in disallowing the claims for actual damages.

HELD:

The petition is meritorious.

CIVIL LAW: Actual damages

Actual or compensatory damages are those damages which the injured party is entitled to recover for the wrong done and injuries received when none were intended. Pertaining as they do to such injuries or losses that are actually sustained and susceptible of measurement, they are intended to put the injured party in the position in which he was before he was injured.

The rule is long and well settled that there must be pleading and proof of actual damages suffered for the same to be recovered. In this regard, Oceaneering correctly faulted the CA for not granting its claim for actual damages or, more specifically, the portions thereof which were duly pleaded and adequately proved before the RTC. While concededly not included in the demand letters Oceaneering served Barretto, the former’s counterclaims for the value of its lost cargo and salvaging expenses were distinctly pleaded and prayed for in the answer it filed.

PARTIALLY GRANTED.

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