Monday, April 2, 2012

Ortigas v Lufthansa G.R. No. L-28773 June 30, 1975

J. Barredo

Francisco Ortigas, and defendant Lufthansa German Airlines, appealed from the decision of the Court of First Instance of Manila, condemning the defendant to pay plaintiff an indemnity for the former's failure to "comply with its obligation to give first class accommodation to a Filipino passenger holding a first class ticket," This was due to giving of the space instead to a Belgian and the improper conduct of its agents in dealing with him which was filled with discrimination.
During the trial, there were several postponements of the trial from both sides. Three hearings were postponed on the request of the plaintiffs, 4 on the request of both parties, and 10 on the request of respondents.
Due to so many postponements made by the respondent, including the no-show of their European employees as witnesses, the case tilted out of their favor. One of their witnesses was stricken from the list due to his non-appearance in the day that the cross-exam on him was to be finished and the judge moved for a finality regarding the postponements (ie. no postponements were to be made again)
Ortigas claimed that while in Rome, the discrimination against him took place. Moreover, when he asked for a seat change to first class during the stop overs, he wasn’t given any. He was only given the option when he was already in Hong Kong, about 3 hours only from Manila.

1. WON the lower court acted in grave abuse of discretion when it denied the defendant’s motion for postponement on Sept 24, 1966.
2. WON the lower court erred in striking out the testimony of one of the defendants witnesses even if his testimony was not finished
3. WON the lower court erred in making the defendant pay indemnities.

Held: No to all. Judgment modified raising damages from 100k to 150k.

1. The case had been pending for about three years and had actually suffered during that period even more than the usually permissible number of continuances, quite often to suit the convenience of defendant's counsel. Notice of the September 28, 1966 schedule had been served on counsel the month previous. It must be assumed that due preparations and arrangements were to be made since the receipt of that notice to insure the presence in Manila for the expected witnesses on the date set. Under the circumstances, the excuse given by defendant that the witnesses could not leave their respective stations and places of work to attend the trial is plainly unacceptable. There was enough time and opportunity for defendant to have made the corresponding adjustments in the assignments of its personnel so as to enable its witnesses to be in court.
As it is, there was actually no basis at all for the exercise of discretion on the part of the trial judge in a manner favorable to it. Trials may be postponed because of the absence of evidence only when such absence is justified. Mere absence is not a justification in itself. Section 4 of Rule 22 is sufficiently clear on this point. It provides that "A motion to postpone a trial on the ground of absence of evidence can be granted only upon affidavit showing the materiality of evidence expected to be obtained, and that due diligence has been used to procure it." This means that it must be shown to the court that due diligence had been exercised in either securing the presence of the evidence (witnesses) or preventing the absence thereof.
Indeed, even if such reason were given earlier on September 24, 1966 the court would have been as well justified in denying the requested postponement. We cannot see any reason why, despite its having knowledge of the date of the hearing about a month before, defendant did not see to it that its expected witnesses were not assigned to do duty on the day they were supposed to appear in court. We cannot believe Lufthansa could be so undermanned that such a simple adjustment of its personnel had to be "impossible."
2. The right of a party to cross-examine the witnesses of his adversary is invaluable as it is inviolable in civil cases, no less than the right of the accused in criminal cases. The express recognition of such right of the accused in the Constitution does not render the right of parties in civil cases less constitutionally based, for it is an indispensable part of the due process guaranteed by the fundamental law. Subject to appropriate supervision by the judge in order to avoid unnecessary delays on account of its being unduly protracted and to needed injunctions protective of the right of the witness against self-incrimination and oppressive and unwarranted harassment and embarrassment, a party is absolutely entitled to a full cross-examination as prescribed in Section 8 of Rule 132 thus: "Upon the termination of the direct examination, the witness may be cross-examined by the adverse party as to any matters stated in the direct examination, or connected therewith, with sufficient fullness and freedom to test his accuracy and truthfulness and freedom from interest or bias, or the reverse, and to elicit all important facts bearing upon the issue." Until such cross-examination has been finished, the testimony of the witness cannot be considered as complete and may not, therefore, be allowed to form part of the evidence to be considered by the court in deciding the case.
Oral testimony may be taken into account only when it is complete, that is, if the witness has been wholly cross-examined by the adverse party or the right to cross-examine is lost wholly or in part thru the fault of such adverse party. But when cross-examination is not and cannot be done or completed due to causes attributable to the party offering the witness, the uncompleted testimony is thereby rendered incompetent.
In the case at bar, however, the Supreme Court has not opted not to rely exclusively on the foregoing considerations. In order to satisfy as to whether or not defendant stands to be irreparably prejudiced by the impugned action of the trial court relative to the testimony of Lazzari, the justices have just the same gone over the transcript thereof. After considering the same, they claimed that even his direct testimony, without taking into account anymore his answers to the cross-examination questions of counsel for plaintiff, cannot be of much weight in establishing the defenses in defendant's answer.
However, the trial court's action cannot be categorized as arbitrary or oppressive or as amounting to a grave abuse of discretion. To be sure, this second order was but a logical consequence of the previous order denying defendant's motion for postponement. With such denial, the next thing in order was to declare the presentation of evidence of the defendant terminated. Accordingly, it was necessary to determine what evidence could be considered to be for the defendant. And so when counsel for plaintiff asked the court to strike out the testimony so far given by Lazarri, there was practically no alternative for the court but to grant the same. Indeed, defendant's counsel could not and did not offer any objection thereto.
3. In the light of all the foregoing, there can be no doubt as to the right of Ortigas to damages, both moral and exemplary. Precedents We have consistently adhered to so dictate.
Lopez- According to the Court, such omission placed plaintiffs in a predicament that enabled the company to keep the plaintiffs as their passengers in the tourist class, thereby retaining the business and promoting the company's self-interest at the expense of, embarrassment, discomfort and humiliation on the part of the plaintiffs.
These precedents, as may be seen, apply four-square to herein plaintiffs case. Defendant's liability for willful and wanton breach of its contract of carriage with plaintiff is, therefore, indubitable.

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