MANILA - The Pasay City Regional Trial Court (RTC) ordered Cebu Pacific (CebuPac) to pay P2 million in moral and exemplary damages to a passenger who was barred from taking her flight due to her psoriasis.
In a 39-page decision, Pasay court Branch 114 Judge Edwin Ramizo said Rev. Magnolia Nova Mendoza was “put in a situation wherein she was being subjected to a rigid inspection through no fault of her, thus bringing so much embarrassment, humiliation and anxiety on her part…”
Asked for comment, CebuPac corporate communications manager Michelle Pestano-Fojas said she has yet to read the decision.
Mendoza, an ordained minister and professor at the Silliman University Divinity School, was supposed to take a flight to Manila from Dumaguete at 8:50 a.m. on March 11, 2010.
The check-in personnel, however, returned her ticket and asked about the rashes on her face.
Mendoza was suffering from psoriasis, which is not a communicable disease. To her embarrassment, however, she was asked to produce a medical certificate before she could be allowed to board the flight.
The CebuPac officials booked her for the afternoon flight without additional expenses as long as she can produce a medical certificate that she is safe for travel.
Mendoza was finally allowed to fly that afternoon, but was urged to sign still a Special Handling Form.
In the decision, Ramizo said the carrier breached its Contract of Carriage with Mendoza when it failed to let her take the flight.
“When an airline issues a ticket to a passenger confirmed on a particular flight on a certain date, a contract of carriage arises, and the passenger has every right to expect that he would fly on that flight and on that date. If he does not, then the carrier opens itself to a suit for breach of contract of carriage,” the judge said.
CebuPac claimed that it was only exercising diligence to ensure the safety of other passengers.
The judge noted, however, that the carrier’s own Basic Operations Manual (BOM) does not require the presentation of a medical certificate for psoriasis sufferers.
Psoriasis is a chronic non-infectious disease that affects the skin. It shows up in red scaly patches in different parts of the body.
The burden of proving herself fit for flight fell on the shoulders of Mendoza, the judge also noted.
“Had there been readily available medical experts of defendant-carrier, it could have easily addressed the doubts of the minds of its agents about the real condition of the plaintiff,” he said.
Mendoza had to call her doctor that time. Unfortunately, the doctor was not able to take the call.
“Settled is the rule that a carrier 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...,” the judge added.
In awarding the P1 million moral damages, the court took note of the embarrassment suffered by Mendoza “not once, but twice.”
Mendoza, a frequent flyer, had never experienced such “embarrassment” before. The experience traumatized her, however, to the extent that she stopped flying CebuPac, or suffers panic attacks whenever she takes the plane.
Her psoriasis also worsened because of the trauma.
Her studies also suffered because she had to attend to the case since she had to go to Manila every now and then to attend to the case.
The judge also ordered CebuPac to pay P1 million in exemplary damages because it acted in “wanton, fraudulent, reckless, oppressive, or malevolent manner” when it breached its contractual obligation with Mendoza.
Mendoza was also granted P100,000 in lawyer’s fees and P129,123 cost of suit.
Lawyer Harry Roque described the decision a proud moment in the justice system.
“The RTC decision is precedent in promoting right to equality for all,” he said.