Mercantile Law

G.V. FLORIDA TRANSPORT, INC. v. HEIRS OF BATTUNG G.R. No. 208802, October 14, 2015 J. PERLAS-BERNABE Common Carriers, Death or Injuries to Passengers

FACTS:

Romeo L. Battung, Jr. boarded petitioner’s bus in Delfin Albano, Isabela, bound for Manila. Battung was seated at the first row behind the driver and slept during the ride. When the bus reached the Philippine Carabao Center in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija, the bus driver, Duplio, stopped the bus and alighted to check the tires. At this point, a man who was seated at the fourth row of the bus stood up, shot Battung at his head, and then left with a companion. The bus conductor, Daraoay, notified Duplio of the incident and thereafter, brought Romeo to the hospital, but the latter was pronounced dead on arrival. Hence, respondents filed a complaint for damages based on a breach of contract of carriage against petitioner.

In their defense, petitioner, et al. claimed that Battung’s death should be properly deemed a fortuitous event.

The RTC ruled in favor of the Heirs of Battung.

Petitioner, et al. appealed to the CA.

The CA affirmed the ruling of the RTC in toto. It held that the killing of Battung cannot be deemed as a fortuitous event, considering that such killing happened right inside petitioner’s bus and that petitioner, et al. did not take any safety measures in ensuring that no deadly weapon would be smuggled inside the bus.

Aggrieved, petitioner moved for reconsideration which was, however, denied; hence, the instant petition.

ISSUE:

Whether or not the petitioner is liable for damages to respondent arising from culpa contractual.

RULING:

The petition is meritorious.

The law exacts from common carriers the highest degree of diligence in ensuring the safety of its passengers.

In this relation, Article 1756 of the Civil Code provides that “[i]n case of death of or injuries to passengers, common carriers are presumed to have been at fault or to have acted negligently, unless they prove that they observed extraordinary diligence as prescribed in Articles 1733 and 1755.” This disputable presumption may also be overcome by a showing that the accident was caused by a fortuitous event.

The foregoing provisions notwithstanding, it should be pointed out that the law does not make the common carrier an insurer of the absolute safety of its passengers.

Article 1755 of the Civil Code qualifies the duty of extraordinary care, vigilance[,] and precaution in the carriage of passengers by common carriers to only such as human care and foresight can provide.

Thus, it is clear that neither the law nor the nature of the business of a transportation company makes it an insurer of the passenger’s safety, but that its liability for personal injuries sustained by its passenger rests upon its negligence, its failure to exercise the degree of diligence that the law requires.

In this case, Battung’s death was neither caused by any defect in the means of transport or in the method of transporting, or to the negligent or willful acts of petitioner’s employees, the driver and conductor. Instead, the case involves the death of Battung wholly caused by the surreptitious act of a co-passenger who, after consummating such crime, hurriedly alighted from the vehicle. Thus, there is no proper issue on petitioner’s duty to observe extraordinary diligence in ensuring the safety of the passengers transported by it, and the presumption of fault/negligence against petitioner under the Civil Code should not apply.

By all accounts, therefore, it cannot be concluded that petitioner or any of its employees failed to employ the diligence of a good father of a family in relation to its responsibility under Article 1763 of the Civil Code. As such, petitioner cannot altogether be held civilly liable.

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