Lawyers say victims can sue ship owner
Be careful about signing a quitclaim or waiver.
This was the advice yesterday of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) which promised to assist victims of the ill-fated MV St. Thomas Aquinas who seek legal assistance.
PAO-7 Director Maria Gree Calinawan said that survivors or families who lost loved ones in the Aug. 16 mishap may lose their right to sue a shipping company or file money claims later if they sign this document.
A quitclaim or waiver renounces all claim to a possession or right.
“Be mindful in dealing with the shipping company. Take into consideration what happened to some cases filed in relation to the 2008 sinking of the MV Princess of the Stars. When relatives of the victims signed the quitclaim, they waived their claims against Sulpicio,” Calinawan told Cebu Daily News.
At least six cases filed against Sulpicio Lines Inc. (SLI) were dismissed by Cebu city courts after plaintiffs voluntarily signed a release and quitclaim.
Families that signed these documents received P200,000 in insurance money from Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp., formerly known as SLI. The other option was to sue for a bigger amount to compensate for the loss of life and property.
The courts ruled that the documents freed the company from any future liability over the tragedy.
“I advise the victims to seek the assistance of lawyers to explain to them the consequences of signing quitclaims,” Calinawan said yesterday.
She said PAO is ready to extend legal assistance to qualified or indigent victims.
Indigents or those whose monthly income is not more than P13,000 can seek free legal assistance from PAO.
“So far, none of the victims of the collision came to our office. Maybe, some of them haven’t recovered yet from what happened,” Calinawan said.
It took a month or more for relatives of those who died in the sinking of the Princess of the Stars to files a case in court.
PAO Chief Persida Acosta said her office is coordinating with the Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI) with regard to the Aug. 16 sea collision between MV St. Thomas Aquinas and Sulpicio Express Siete.
“I’m also scheduled to meet some of the survivors,” Acosta told CDN over the phone.
“We’re more than willing to help the victims. Survivors can file a damage suit. Those whose loved ones perished during the incident all the more can pursue a case in court. The fact that they lost someone in their families, they are qualified to file a case,” Calinawan explained.
Inocencio dela Cerna, a Cebu lawyer who specializes in torts and damages, said victims of the St. Thomas Aquinas sinking can file a suit against 2GO Travel.
“Being a common carrier, they are required under the law to exercise extraordinary diligence in transporting passengers, one requirement of which is ensuring their safety and for which every passenger is accordingly insured,” he explained.
“2Go may be held primarily responsible to that extend. However, this should not preclude 2GO from seeking damages from Sulpicio should the latter be found the negligent vessel,” he added.
Dela Cerna said 2GO Travel could be cited for breach of contract of carriage.
“A breach of contract, in layman’s terms, and with repect to the issue, refers to the obligation of 2GO shipping to transport the passengers from Butuan to Manila and the failure of 2GO to fulfill the obligation,” he said.
“As soon as you purchased a ticket from the shipping the company, you have a contract that the ship would bring you safely to your destinatation.”
PAO is representing plaintiffs in 64 cases in Cebu and more than 70 cases in Manila for the sinking of the Princess of the Stars. /Ador Vincent S. Mayol, Reporter
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