Published 20 September 2019, The Daily Tribune

We now discuss the liability of common carriers in cases where the death or injury to the passenger is caused by the common carrier’s employee or by a co-passenger.

Under the law, common carriers are liable for the death of or injuries to passengers through the negligence or willful acts of the former’s employees, although such employees may have acted beyond the scope of their authority or in violation of the orders of the common carriers. This liability is again, demanded by the duty of extraordinary diligence required of common carriers in safely carrying their passengers. Unlike in ordinary cases, this liability does not cease even if the common carrier was able to prove that it exercised all the diligence of a good father of a family in the selection and supervision of its employees (Article 1763, Civil Code of the Philippines).

In one case decided by the Supreme Court, the taxi driver stabbed and killed his passenger. Despite the conviction of the taxi driver in a separate criminal action, the Court held the taxi operator/common carrier liable for damages when the victim’s mother filed a complaint for damages. The common carrier claimed non-liability, arguing that the death was a caso fortuito. It also relied on another Supreme Court case (Gillaco, et al v. Manila Railroad Company, G.R. No. L-8034, 18 November 1955) wherein an employee of Manila Railroad Company shot and killed a train passenger without the railroad company being held liable for damages.

The Court ruled that the liability of the common carrier is clearly grounded on Article 1763 of the Civil Code. It explained that the Gillaco ruling relied upon by the taxi operator cannot be applied in the subject case because the attendant facts and controlling law thereof are very different. In Gillaco case, the passenger was killed outside the scope and the course of duty of the guilty employee (accused) since the killing happened outside of his working hours and area of assignment. At that time, the accused was not acting as an employee or as a train guard but as another train passenger. In the subject case, the killing was perpetrated by the driver of the very cab transporting the passenger, in whose hands the carrier had entrusted the duty of executing the contract of carriage (Maranan v. Perez, et al., G.R. No. L-22272, 26 June 1967).

On the other hand, if the death or injury to the passenger is caused by another passenger, the liability of the common carrier for damages depends on whether or not its employees exercised ordinary diligence to prevent or stop the act or omission which caused such death or injury. There are two landmark cases related to this discussion which are worth sharing.

The first one is the instructive ruling in G.V. Florida Transport, Inc. v. Heirs of Romeo L. Battung, Sr. G.R. No. 208802, 14 October 2015. In this case, no liability was imputed on the common carrier even if the passenger died on board the bus it was operating. The said passenger was shot by another passenger who immediately alighted with his companion after the shooting. Here, the accused acted surreptitiously in bringing the weapon inside the bus. There was also no showing that during the course of the trip that the killer made suspicious actions which would have forewarned the employees of the common carrier of the need to conduct thorough checks on him or any of the passengers. In view of these, the Court ruled that while the law requires the highest degree of diligence from common carriers in the safe transport of their passengers and creates a presumption of negligence against them, it does not, however, make the carrier an insurer of the absolute safety of its passengers.

The other case is Fortune Express, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 119756, 18 November 1999. Contrary to the Battung case, the Court ruled against the common carrier and held it liable for damages for the death of a passenger when the latter was shot by the suspects who pretended to be passengers since the carrier was already forewarned that the suspects were planning to hijack and burn some of its buses. This notwithstanding, it did nothing to protect the safety of its passengers. Had the common carrier and its employees been vigilant and had employed simple precautionary measures, they would not have failed to see that the malefactors had a large quantity of gasoline with them and was intending to commit an illegal activity.

There are also instances where the negligence of the passenger contributed to his death or injury. Under the law however, such contributory negligence does not bar recovery of damages, if the proximate cause thereof is the negligence of the common carrier. Nevertheless, the amount of damages shall be equitably reduced. In the case of Philippine National Railways v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. L-55347, 04 October 1985, the train boarded by the deceased passenger was so over-crowded that he and many other passengers had no choice but to sit on the open platforms between the coaches of the train. As a consequence, the passenger fell off the train and died. The Court ruled that while the common carrier failed to observe extraordinary diligence, the deceased was chargeable with contributory negligence. Since he opted to sit on the open platform between the coaches of the train, he should have held tightly and tenaciously on the upright metal bar found at the side of said platform to avoid falling off from the speeding train. Such contributory negligence, while not exempting the PNR from liability, nevertheless justified the deletion of the amount adjudicated as moral and exemplary damages.

It is worth to note that despite the duty and strict liability exacted by law upon common carriers, the same does not excuse the commuters to do their part by being prudent and cautious to avoid injury to themselves and to their co-passengers. While vehicular accidents are likely to occur, they are not completely inevitable if both the common carriers and the commuters cooperate towards achieving a safe public transportation system.

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