The airline is in hot water.
A 10-year old girl reportedly suffered 2nd degree burns while on flight from Bangkok to Manila on board a domestic airline. When she was served with her requested “hot water”, she accidentally spilled the contents on herself resulting in the injuries on her left thigh and leg. In response, the airline crew allegedly insisted that she was served only with “warm water”. (Read: News Report.)
To make things more interesting (or worse for the airline), the little girl happens to be a granddaughter of a Cebu-based mall tycoon whose group owns, runs, and operates a family-owned chain of malls in the Visayas and Mindanao. A tort case from a wealthy family will cause serious problems.
A tort case is the worst nightmare for a business, especially for an airline which is a common carrier subject to the highest form of diligence required by law – extraordinary diligence.
A tort or quasi-delict is “the wrongful act or negligent act or omission which creates a vinculum juris and gives rise to an obligation between two persons not formally bound by any other obligation” (Sps. Batal v. Sps. San Pedro, G.R. No. 164601, 27 September 2006, citing A.M. Tolentino, Commentaries and Jurisprudence on the Civil Code of the Philippines, p. 592, 1992).
This is usually referred to as negligence cases (which is not accurate as it may also apply to wilful acts). Thus, “a person is liable for damages against another who suffers damage as a result of the former’s acts or omissions which are the proximate cause, whether the same is due to negligence or fault, and there is no pre-existing contractual relation between the two persons” (J. Del Puerto, Legal Aspects of Business, 2014).
In the present case, there appears to be a prima facie case for quasi-delict. Based on reports, the girl suffered 2nd degree burns the proximate cause of which is the “hot water” served to her by the airline’s stewardess. The issue now revolves on whether there was negligence.
In the U.S., there is that much celebrated incident referred to as the Hot Coffee Case which is similar herein. In the Hot Coffee Case, a 79-year old grandmother accidentally spilled hot coffee on her thighs resulting in 3rd degree burns. She won and was initially awarded $2.86 Million (later reduced to $640K by the court and subsequently settled for an undisclosed amount). During the trial, the Complainant established their negligence case by showing that the coffee was “unreasonable hot” (as it did cause 3rd degree burns) and there have been numerous previous complaints with no adequate response. On the other hand, the business puts forth the defense that the temperature was just enough for a hot coffee and tried to shift the liability to the Complainant. As stated, the Complainant won.
Going back to the 10-year old, the airline as a common carrier is in a more difficult position to defend itself. Any defense they put forth will be invalidated by the extraordinary diligence required of their business as discussed in a previous article “Domestic airline loses to psoriasis”.
In the article mentioned above, another domestic airline was held liable for over P2 Million after it refused to board a passenger who was suffering from psoriasis. While the Complainant was refused in the morning of her flight, she was nonetheless boarded in the afternoon of the same day. Regardless, the damage has been done and she filed a complaint. While the trial court appears to have not made any explicit reference to extraordinary diligence, it ruled against the Defendant airline company stating that it “owes to a passenger the highest degree of care and this includes defendant’s duty to provide its own medical staff or consultants who could easily be contacted.” It resonates of extraordinary diligence.
For good reasons, common carriers are held to the highest degree of diligence – extraordinary diligence – as their business involve the safety and security of their passengers. They transport lives so to speak.
Thus, the Supreme Court has held that, in a contract of carriage, “the carrier assumes the express obligation to transport its passenger to his destination safely and to observe extraordinary diligence with due regard to all the circumstances, and any injury that might be suffered by the passenger is right away attributable to the fault or negligence of the carrier and thus gives rise to the right of the passenger or his heirs for indemnity” (Candano Shipping Lines, Inc., v. Sugata-on, G.R. No. 163212, 13 March 2007).
If you want to know how high a degree is extraordinary diligence, there has been no case (to my knowledge thus far) raised to the Supreme Court against a common carrier where the latter was able to discharge such a burden. On various occasions, the common carrier has been made liable.
For this 10-year old girl, her life has been placed at risk. Against extraordinary diligence, the airline may find it a Herculean task to defend itself. Unfortunately, they started weak with a “warm water” defense. On the side, settlement is the better route for both parties as each side having the financial means will engage top caliber lawyers who will exhaust any and all means to protect the interest of their respective clients. This could easily result in an expensive and protracted lawsuit.