Published 16 September 2019, The Daily Tribune
Riding a public transportation or commuting in colloquial term, has become part of the daily lives of most Filipinos. While a significant number of Filipinos subscribe to the services of transport network companies because of the security, comfort and convenience they offer, commuting still remains to be a popular option for those who want to save on transportation costs.
Operators of public utility vehicles are considered as common carriers. A common carrier is defined under the Philippine Civil Code as persons, corporations, firms or associations engaged in the business of carrying or transporting passengers or goods or both, by land, water, or air, for compensation, offering their services to the public. Under transportation laws, a common carrier engaged in the carrying of passengers, from the nature of its business and for reasons of public policy, is bound to observe extraordinary diligence to ensure the safety of the passengers transported by them. The law further provides that a common carrier is bound to carry the passengers safely as far as human care and foresight can provide, using the utmost diligence of very cautious persons, with a due regard for all the circumstances. Ordinary diligence is not good enough. It has to be extraordinary diligence.
As previously mentioned, for reasons of public policy (such as to protect the riding public from reckless drivers), there is a presumption of negligence on the part of common carriers in case of death of or injury to passenger(s) in which case the victim or his/her heir only needs to prove the existence of contract of carriage between the victim (passenger) and the common carrier. This presumption of negligence can only be rebutted if the common carrier can prove that it observed extraordinary diligence required of it in transporting its passenger(s).
This duty of common carriers to exercise the highest degree of diligence commences from the moment the person who purchases the ticket from the carrier presents himself at the proper place and in a proper manner to be transported. Once created, the relation of carrier and passenger will not ordinarily terminate until the passenger has, after reaching his destination, safely alighted from the carrier’s conveyance or had a reasonable opportunity to leave the carrier’s premises.
In relation to this, in the landmark case of Dangwa Transportation Co. v. Court of Appeals (G.R. No. 95582, 07 October 1991), a passenger attempted to ride the bus and was able to step on its platform but was run over by the rear right tires of the vehicle and eventually died because the driver’s sudden acceleration of the bus. The Court held the common carrier liable for damages ratiocinating that the victim, by stepping and standing on the platform of the bus, is already considered a passenger and is entitled to all the rights and protection pertaining to such a contractual relation even though he had not been issued a ticket and gained a seat. Thus, the carrier failed to observe the diligence required of it when its driver did not make a full stop to allow the passenger to board the bus. The Court also ruled that once a public utility bus stops, it is in effect making a continuous offer to bus riders. Therefore, it becomes the duty of the driver and the conductor, every time the bus stops, to do no act that would have the effect of increasing the peril to a passenger while he was attempting to board the same. Such rule equally applies to all common carriers transporting passengers by land such as taxis, jeepneys, tricycles, FX, and public vans.
Another case held by the Supreme Court is instructive on when the said duty of common carrier ends. In that case, a family rode the bus and alighted therefrom. The father led his family to a shaded spot on the left pedestrian side of the road about four or five meters away from the vehicle and returned to the bus to get one of his baggage which was not unloaded. Unknown to him, his four-year old daughter followed him. However, although the father was still on the running board of the bus waiting for the conductor to hand him the bag, the bus started to run, so that even the father had to jump down from the moving vehicle. It was at this instance that the child, who must be near the bus, was sideswiped and killed.
The Court likewise ruled against the common carrier and held that the presence of said passengers near the bus was not unreasonable and they are, therefore, to be considered still as passengers of the carrier, entitled to the protection under their contract of carriage. Moreover, it explained that the carrier-passenger relationship is not terminated merely by the fact that the person transported has been carried to his destination if, for example, such person remains in the carrier’s premises to claim his baggage (La Mallorca v. Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. L-20761, 27 July 1966).
It must be noted that the duty to exercise extraordinary diligence is not impaired by the fact that the passenger paid a discounted fare or was carried gratuitously (free) by the common carrier. In the latter case however, the law expressly allows a stipulation limiting the common carrier’s liability for negligence, but not for wilful acts or gross negligence. Nevertheless, a stow away, or one who travel secretly or without paying the fare, cannot invoke extraordinary diligence and presumption of negligence against a common carrier since there is no contract of carriage between the stow away and the carrier to begin with.
The liability of common carriers in cases where the death or injury to the passenger is caused by its employee or a co-passenger shall be discussed in Part II of this article.
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