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Torts and Damages Case Digest: Gatchalian v. Delim (1991)

G.R. No. L-56487 October 21, 1991
Lessons Applicable: Personal Injury and Death (Torts and Damages)
Laws Applicable: 

  • July 11,1973: Reynalda Gatchalian boarded Thames" mini bus at Aringay, La Union bound for Bauang, of the same province.  The bus bumped a cement flower pot on the side of the road, went off the road, turned turtle and fell into a ditch.
  • Gatchalian got injured with physical injuries on the leg, arm and forehead
  • Mrs. Adela Delim visited the passenger and later paid for their hospitalization and medical expenses.  She also gave transportation expense of P12 in going home from the hospital and they were made to sign a Joint Affidavit stating that they are no longer interested to file a complaint, criminal or civil against the said driver and owner of the said Thames.
  • Gatchalian filed in the CFI an action extra contractu to recover compensatory and moral damages stating that the mishap had left her with a conspicuous white scar measuring 1 by 1/2 inches on the forehead, generating mental suffering and an inferiority complex on her part
    • as a result, she had to retire in seclusion and stay away from her friends
    • scar diminished her facial beauty and deprived her of opportunities for employment
  • Delim averred that it was a fortuitous event
  • CFI: dismissed because of the Joint Affidavit
  • CA: affirmed
ISSUE: W/N Gatchalian is entitled to damages

HELD: YES. CA, CFI REVERSED and SET ASIDE 1) P15,000 actual or compensatory damages to cover the cost of plastic surgery for the removal of the scar on petitioner's forehead; 2) P30,000 moral damages; and 3) P1,000 attorney's fees, the aggregate amount to bear interest at the legal rate of 6% per annum counting from the promulgation of this decision until full payment thereof

  • A waiver, to be valid and effective, must in the first place be couched in clear and unequivocal terms which leave no doubt as to the intention of a person to give up a right or benefit which legally pertains to him.
    • while reading the same, she experienced dizziness but that, seeing the other passengers who had also suffered injuries sign the document, she too signed without bothering to read the Joint Affidavit in its entirety. Considering these circumstances there appears substantial doubt whether petitioner understood fully the import of the Joint Affidavit
    • To uphold a supposed waiver of any right to claim damages by an injured passenger, under circumstances like those exhibited in this case, would be to dilute and weaken the standard of extraordinary diligence exacted by the law from common carriers and hence to render that standard unenforceable. 
    • To exempt a common carrier from liability for death or physical injuries to passengers upon the ground of force majeure, the carrier must clearly show not only that the efficient cause of the casualty was entirely independent of the human will, but also that it was impossible to avoid.
    • The driver did not stop to check if anything had gone wrong with the bus after the snapping sound
    • Court of Appeals, however, found that at the time of the accident, she was no longer employed in a public school since, being a casual employee and not a Civil Service eligible, she had been laid off. Her employment as a substitute teacher was occasional and episodic, contingent upon the availability of vacancies for substitute teachers. 
    • A person is entitled to the physical integrity of his or her body; if that integrity is violated or diminished, actual injury is suffered for which actual or compensatory damages are due and assessable. Petitioner Gatchalian is entitled to be placed as nearly as possible in the condition that she was before the mishap. A scar, especially one on the face of the woman, resulting from the infliction of injury upon her, is a violation of bodily integrity, giving raise to a legitimate claim for restoration to her conditio ante. If the scar is relatively small and does not grievously disfigure the victim, the cost of surgery may be expected to be correspondingly modest. 
    • In view of the testimony, and the fact that a considerable amount of time has lapsed since the mishap in 1973 which may be expected to increase not only the cost but also very probably the difficulty of removing the scar, we consider that the amount of P15,000.00 to cover the cost of such plastic surgery is not unreasonable 
    • moral damages may be awarded where gross negligence on the part of the common carrier