CASE DIGEST: Sealoader v. Grand Cement

G.R. No. 167363 : December 15, 2010


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G.R. No. 177466




Sealoader Shipping Corporation (Sealoader) is a domestic corporation engaged in the business of shipping and hauling cargo from one point to another using sea-going inter-island barges. Grand Cement Manufacturing Corporation (now Taiheiyo Cement Philippines, Inc.), on the other hand, is a domestic corporation engaged in the business of manufacturing and selling cement through its authorized distributors and, for which purposes, it maintains its own private wharf in San Fernando, Cebu, Philippines.

Sealoader executed a Time Charter Party Agreement with Joyce Launch and Tug Co., Inc. (Joyce Launch), a domestic corporation, which owned and operated the motor tugboat M/T Viper. By virtue of the agreement, Sealoader chartered the M/T Viper in order to tow the formers unpropelled barges. Subsequently, Sealoader entered into a contract with Grand Cement for the loading of cement clinkers and the delivery thereof to Manila. Sealoaders barge, the D/B Toploader, arrived at the wharf of Grand Cement tugged by the M/T Viper. The D/B Toploader, however, was not immediately loaded with its intended cargo as the employees of Grand Cement were still loading another vessel, the Cargo Lift Tres.

On April 4, 1994, Typhoon Bising struck the Visayas area, the D/B Toploader was, at that time, still docked at the wharf of Grand Cement. In the afternoon of said date, as the winds blew stronger and the waves grew higher, the M/T Viper tried to tow the D/B Toploader away from the wharf. The efforts of the tugboat were foiled, however, as the towing line connecting the two vessels snapped. This occurred as the mooring lines securing the D/B Toploader to the wharf were not cast off. The following day, the employees of Grand Cement discovered the D/B Toploader situated on top of the wharf, apparently having rammed the same and causing significant damage thereto.

Grand Cement filed a Complaint for Damages against Sealoader; Romulo Diantan, the Captain of the M/T Viper; and Johnny Ponce, the Barge Patron of the D/B Toploader. On the amended complaint, Sealoader filed a cross claim against Joyce Launch.

The RTC found defendants guilty of negligence, which caused damage to the [Grand Cements] wharf. The defendants negligence can be shown from their acts or omissions, thus: they did not take any precautionary measure as demanded or required of them in complete disregard of the public storm signal or warning; the master or captain or the responsible crew member of the vessel was not in the vessel, hence, nobody could make any move or action for the safety of the vessel at such time of emergency or catastrophe; and the vessel was not equipped with a radio or any navigational communication facility, which is a mandatory requirement for all navigational vessels.

On the second issue: Re: Damages. As the defendants are guilty of negligence, [Grand Cement] is entitled to recover damages from them. Even the failure of the defendants to equip their vessel with the communication facility, such as radio, such failure is undisputedly a negligence. Had defendants been mindful enough to equip their vessel with a radio, a responsible crew member of the vessel would have been informed through the radio of the incoming typhoon and the notice from the [Grand Cement] about the said typhoon would have been of no concern to the defendant and/or the responsible crew members of the vessel. The safety of the vessel and the avoidance of injury or damage to another should be the primary concern of the defendants and/or the crew members themselves.

The damage to Grand Cements private wharf was caused by the negligence of both defendants Sealoader and Joyce Launch as well as their employees, who are the complements of the barge Toploader and the tugboat M/T Viper.

Before the appellate court, Sealoader argued that the RTC erred in: (1) finding that the damage to the wharf of Grand Cement was caused by the negligence of Sealoader; (2) holding Sealoader liable for damages despite the fact that it was Grand Cement that had the last clear chance to avert the damage; (3) not holding that Grand Cement was negligent for not loading the vessel on time; and (4) giving credence to the afterthought testimony of Grand Cements rebuttal witness.

The Court of Appeals held that like Sealoader, Grand Cement did not take any precaution to avoid the damages wrought by the storm. Grand Cement waited until the last possible moment before informing Sealoader and Joyce about the impending storm. In fact, it continued loading on another vessel (Cargo Lift 3) until 2:15 p.m. of April 4, 1994 or roughly just before the storm hit. It is no wonder that Sealoader did not immediately move away from the pier since the owner of the pier, Grand Cement, was continuing to load another vessel despite the fast approaching storm. In totality, we find that Grand Cement also did not exercise due diligence in this case and that its conduct contributed to the damages that it suffered.

Article 2179 of the New Civil Code states that where the plaintiffs negligence was only contributory, the immediate and proximate cause of the injury being the defendants lack of due care, the plaintiff may recover damages, the courts shall mitigate the damages to be awarded. Contributory negligence is conduct on the part of the plaintiff which falls below the standard to which he should conform for his own protection and which is legally contributing cause, cooperating with the negligence of the defendant in bringing about the plaintiffs harm.

Due to its contributory negligence, Grand Cement must carry part of the brunt of the damages. This Court finds it equitable that Grand Cement should bear FIFTY PER CENT (50%) or half of the actual damages. The other pronouncements of the court regarding attorneys fees, litigation expenses and cost of suit shall, however, not be disturbed.

ISSUE: Who among the parties in this case, should be liable for the damage sustained by the wharf of Grand Cement.

HELD: RTCs decision is sustained.

CIVIL LAW: negligence

The Court holds that Sealoader had the responsibility to inform itself of the prevailing weather conditions in the areas where its vessel was set to sail. Sealoader cannot merely rely on other vessels for weather updates and warnings on approaching storms, as what apparently happened in this case. Common sense and reason dictates this. To do so would be to gamble with the safety of its own vessel, putting the lives of its crew under the mercy of the sea, as well as running the risk of causing damage to the property of third parties for which it would necessarily be liable.

Be that as it may, the records of the instant case reveal that Grand Cement timely informed the D/B Toploader of the impending typhoon.

The Court finds that the evidence proffered by Sealoader to prove the negligence of Grand Cement was marred by contradictions and are, thus, weak at best. We therefore conclude that the contributory negligence of Grand Cement was not established in this case.