Luxury hotel told to pay P52-M to Norwegian bizman kin-A A +A
Sunday, September 16, 2012
THE Supreme Court (SC) has ordered the high-end Makati Shangri-la Hotel to pay more than P52 million in damages to the heirs of a Norwegian businessman who was killed then robbed by unidentified assailants inside his hotel room 13 years ago.
In a decision penned by Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin, the SC's First Division denied for lack of merit the appeal made by Makati Shangri-la of the Court of Appeals' October 2009 judgment entitling the widow and son of 30-year-old Christian Fredrick Harper, and their Filipino representative, Rigoberto Gillera, to the award of civil damages.
The CA ruling affirmed with modification the October 2005 decision of the Quezon City regional trial court, and placed actual and compensatory damages at P52,078,702.50, to be paid by Makati Shangri-la; P25,000 temperate damages; and P250,000 attorney's fees.
"The Court concurs entirely with the findings and conclusions of the CA, which the Court regards to be thorough and supported by the records of the trial... In that regard, the factual findings of the trial court that are supported by the evidence on record, especially when affirmed by the CA, are conclusive on the Court," the SC ruled.
According to the SC, petitioner hotel is liable due to its own negligence in failing to provide the basic and adequate security measures expected of a five-star hotel; and that its omission was the proximate cause of Harper's death.
It took note of the testimony of the hotel's security manager, who admitted during trial that it was undermanned during that time because the hotel was only half-booked, thus, they then saw no need to adopt a one guard per floor policy.
The High Court also junked the hotel management's claims that being mere establishments, hotels are not insurers of the safety of their guests.
"The hotel business is imbued with public interest. Catering to the public, hotelkeepers are bound to provide not only lodging for their guests but also security to the persons and belongings of their guests. The twin duty constitutes the essence of their business," the SC held.
"Otherwise, the hotelkeepers would simply stand idly by as strangers have unrestricted access to all the hotel rooms on the pretense of being visitors of the guests, without being held liable should anything untoward befall the unwary guests. That would be absurd, something that no good law would ever envision," it added.
Concurring with Bersamin are Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Martin Villarama and Bienvenido Reyes.
Records showed that the victim was on a business trip to Manila as the Business Development Manager for Asia of the engineering firm ALSTOM Power Norway AS, when he was found dead in his room at the 14th floor of the luxury hotel on November 6, 1999.
Harper's eyes, mouth, hands and feet were wrapped with packaging and electrical tapes. His valuables - laptop, undetermined amount of cash, credit cards - were missing. The security cameras of the hotel however only showed a male foreigner and a woman enter Harper's room at past midnight.
The male suspect even tried to use Harper's credit card to purchase an expensive ladies' watch at a jewelry store in a nearby mall on the same day but left the credit cards and Harper's passport in haste when he failed to answer personal details to verify the identity of the cardholder. (JCV/Sunnex)