Southern Lines v. CA (G.R. No. L-16629)

Facts:

The City of Iloilo requisitioned for rice from the National Rice and Corn Corporation (NARIC) in Manila. NARIC, pursuant to the order, shipped 1,726 sacks of rice consigned to the City of Iloilo on board the SS “General Wright” belonging to the Southern Lines, Inc.

The City of Iloilo received the shipment and paid the total charged amount. However, it was discovered in the bill of lading that there was shortage equivalent to 41 sacks of rice. The City of Iloilo filed a complaint against NARIC and the Southern Lines, Inc. for the recovery of the amount representing the value of the shortage of the shipment of rice. The lower court absolved NARIC, but held Southern Lines, Inc. liable to pay the shortage. CA affirmed the trial court’s decision, hence, this petition.

Issues:

(1) W/N Southern Lines is liable for the loss or shortage of the rice shipped;

(2) W/N the action was filed on time.

Ruling:

(1) YES. Under the provisions of Article 361, the defendant-carrier in order to free itself from liability was only obliged to prove that the damages suffered by the goods were “by virtue of the nature or defect of the articles.” Under the provisions of Article 362, the plaintiff, in order to hold the defendant liable, was obliged to prove that the damages to the goods by virtue of their nature, occurred on account of its negligence or because the defendant did not take the precaution adopted by careful persons.

The contention is untenable, for, if the fact of improper packing is known to the carrier or his servants, or apparent upon ordinary observation, but it accepts the goods notwithstanding such condition, it is not relieved of liability for loss or injury resulting therefrom. Petitioner itself frankly admitted that the strings that tied the bags of rice were broken; some bags were with holes and plenty of rice were spilled inside the hull of the boat, and that the personnel of the boat collected no less than 26 sacks of rice which they had distributed among themselves. This finding, which is binding upon this Court, shows that the shortage resulted from the negligence of petitioner.

(2) YES. Respondent filed the present action, within a reasonable time after the short delivery in the shipment of the rice was made. It should be recalled that the present action is one for the refund of the amount paid in excess, and not for damages or the recovery of the shortage; for admittedly the respondent had paid the entire value of the 1726 sacks of rice, subject to subsequent adjustment, as to shortages or losses. The bill of lading does not at all limit the time for filing an action for the refund of money paid in excess.

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