Case Brief: Negros Navigation Co. Inc., v CA

G.R. No. 110398 November 7, 1997
NEGROS NAVIGATION CO., INC., petitioner,
vs.
THE COURT OF APPEALS, RAMON MIRANDA, SPS. RICARDO and VIRGINIA DE LA VICTORIA, respondents.

Facts:

Private respondent Ramon Miranda purchased from the Negros Navigation Co., Inc. four special cabin tickets. The tickets were for Voyage No. 457-A of the M/V Don Juan, leaving Manila and going to Bacolod.

Subsequently, the Don Juan collided off the Tablas Strait in Mindoro, with the M/T Tacloban City, an oil tanker owned by the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC) and the PNOC Shipping and Transport Corporation (PNOC/STC). As a result, the M/V Don Juan sank. Several of her passengers perished in the sea tragedy. The bodies of some of the victims were found and brought to shore, but the four members of private respondents’ families were never found.

Private respondents filed a complaint against the Negros Navigation, the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC), and the PNOC Shipping and Transport Corporation (PNOC/STC), seeking damages for the death. Petitioner, however, denied that the four relatives of private respondents actually boarded the vessel as shown by the fact that their bodies were never recovered. Petitioner further averred that the Don Juan was seaworthy and manned by a full and competent crew, and that the collision was entirely due to the fault of the crew of the M/T Tacloban City.

In finding petitioner guilty of negligence and in failing to exercise the extraordinary diligence required of it in the carriage of passengers, both the trial court and the appellate court relied on the findings of this Court in Mecenas v. Intermediate Appellate Court, which case was brought for the death of other passengers. In Mecenas, SC found petitioner guilty of negligence in (1) allowing or tolerating the ship captain and crew members in playing mahjong during the voyage, (2) in failing to maintain the vessel seaworthy and (3) in allowing the ship to carry more passengers than it was allowed to carry. Petitioner is, therefore, clearly liable for damages to the full extent.

Petitioner criticizes the lower court’s reliance on the Mecenas case, arguing that, although this case arose out of the same incident as that involved in Mecenas, the parties are different and trial was conducted separately. Petitioner contends that the decision in this case should be based on the allegations and defenses pleaded and evidence adduced in it or, in short, on the record of this case.

Issues:

1. Whether the ruling in Mecenas v. Court of Appeals, finding the crew members of petitioner to be grossly negligent in the performance of their duties, is binding in this case;

2. Whether the award for damages in Mecenas v. Court of Appeals is applicable in this case.

Held:

1. No. The contention is without merit.

Adherence to the Mecenas case is dictated by this Court’s policy of maintaining stability in jurisprudence. Where, as in this case, the same questions relating to the same event have been put forward by parties similarly situated as in a previous case litigated and decided by a competent court, the rule of stare decisis is a bar to any attempt to relitigate the same issue.

2.  No, it is not applicable.

Petitioner contends that, assuming that the Mecenas case applies, private respondents should be allowed to claim only P43,857.14 each as moral damages because in the Mecenascase, the amount of P307,500.00 was awarded to the seven children of the Mecenas couple. Here is where the principle of stare decisis does not apply in view of differences in the personal circumstances of the victims. For that matter, differentiation would be justified even if private respondents had joined the private respondents in the Mecenas case.

The doctrine of stare decisis works as a bar only against issues litigated in a previous case. Where the issue involved was not raised nor presented to the court and not passed upon by the court in the previous case, the decision in the previous case is not stare decisis of the question presently presented.

The Mecenas case cannot be made the basis for determining the award for attorney’s fees. The award would naturally vary or differ in each case.

WHEREFORE, the decision of the Court of Appeals is AFFIRMED with modification and petitioner is ORDERED to pay private respondents damages.

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