Civil Law

Pereña v. Zarate G.R. No. 157917, August 29, 2012 Contract of Transportation, Carriage of Passengers, Common Carriers


The Pereñas were engaged in the business of transporting students using a KIA Ceres Van from their respective residences in Parañaque City to Don Bosco in Makati City, and back. 

They employed Clemente Alfaro as driver of the van.

Spouses Nicolas and Teresita Zarate contracted the Pereñas to transport their son Aaron to and from Don Bosco. 

On August 22, 1996, the van picked Aaron up around 6:00 a.m. from the Zarates’ residence. Aaron took his place on the left side of the van near the rear door. The van, with its air-conditioning unit turned on and the stereo playing loudly, ultimately carried all the 14 student riders on their way to Don Bosco. 

At that time, they were already running late because of the heavy vehicular traffic on the South Superhighway.

Alfaro took the van to an alternate route at about 6:45 a.m. by traversing the narrow path underneath the Magallanes Interchange that was then commonly used as a short cut into Makati. 

At the time, the narrow path was marked by piles of construction materials and parked passenger jeepneys, and the railroad crossing in the narrow path had no railroad warning signs, or watchmen, or other responsible persons manning the crossing. 

At about the time the van was to traverse the railroad crossing, a PNR train in the vicinity of the Magallanes Interchange operated by Jhonny Alano was traveling northbound. As the train neared the railroad crossing, Alfaro drove the van eastward across the railroad tracks, closely tailing a large passenger bus. 

His view of the oncoming train was blocked because he overtook the passenger bus on its left side. The train blew its horn to warn motorists of its approach. When the train was about 50 meters away from the passenger bus and the van, Alano applied the ordinary brakes of the train. 

He applied the emergency brakes only when he saw that a collision was imminent. The passenger bus successfully crossed the railroad tracks, but the van driven by Alfaro did not. The train hit the rear end of the van, and the impact threw nine of the 12 students in the rear, including Aaron, out of the van. Aaron landed in the path of the train, which dragged his body and severed his head, instantaneously killing him. Alano fled the scene on board the train, and did not wait for the police investigator to arrive.

Devastated by the early and unexpected death of Aaron, the Zarates commenced this action for damages against Alfaro, the Pereñas, PNR and Alano. The Pereñas and PNR filed their respective answers, with cross-claims against each other, but Alfaro could not be served with summons.

The RTC rendered judgment in favor of the plaintiff and against the defendants ordering them to jointly and severally pay the plaintiffs damages and attorney’s fees. 

Both the Pereñas and PNR appealed.

The CA affirmed the findings of the RTC, but limited the moral damages from Php4,000,000.00 to ₱ 2,500,000.00; and deleted the attorney’s fees because the RTC did not state the factual and legal bases.

The CA denied the Pereñas’ motion for reconsideration.


Whether the Pereñas and PNR were jointly and severally liable for damages.


The petition has no merit.

The RTC found the Pereñas and the PNR negligent. The CA affirmed the findings.

We concur with the CA.

We find no adequate cause to differ from the conclusions of the lower courts that the Pereñas operated as a common carrier; and that their standard of care was extraordinary diligence, not the ordinary diligence of a good father of a family.

Although in this jurisdiction the operator of a school bus service has been usually regarded as a private carrier, primarily because he only caters to some specific or privileged individuals, and his operation is neither open to the indefinite public nor for public use, the exact nature of the operation of a school bus service has not been finally settled. This is the occasion to lay the matter to rest.

A carrier is a person or corporation who undertakes to transport or convey goods or persons from one place to another, gratuitously or for hire. The carrier is classified either as a private/special carrier or as a common/public carrier.10 A private carrier is one who, without making the activity a vocation, or without holding himself or itself out to the public as ready to act for all who may desire his or its services, undertakes, by special agreement in a particular instance only, to transport goods or persons from one place to another either gratuitously or for hire.11 The provisions on ordinary contracts of the Civil Code govern the contract of private carriage.

The diligence required of a private carrier is only ordinary, that is, the diligence of a good father of the family. In contrast, a common carrier is a person, corporation, firm or association engaged in the business of carrying or transporting passengers or goods or both, by land, water, or air, for compensation, offering such services to the public. Contracts of common carriage are governed by the provisions on common carriers of the Civil Code, the Public Service Act, and other special laws relating to transportation. A common carrier is required to observe extraordinary diligence, and is presumed to be at fault or to have acted negligently in case of the loss of the effects of passengers, or the death or injuries to passengers.

Applying these considerations to the case before us, there is no question that the Pereñas as the operators of a school bus service were: (a) engaged in transporting passengers generally as a business, not just as a casual occupation; (b) undertaking to carry passengers over established roads by the method by which the business was conducted; and (c) transporting students for a fee. Despite catering to a limited clientèle, the Pereñas operated as a common carrier because they held themselves out as a ready transportation indiscriminately to the students of a particular school living within or near where they operated the service and for a fee.

The Pereñas have not presented any compelling defense or reason by which the Court might now reverse the CA’s findings on their liability. On the contrary, an examination of the records shows that the evidence fully supported the findings of the CA.

There is no question that the Pereñas did not overturn the presumption of their negligence by credible evidence. Their defense of having observed the diligence of a good father of a family in the selection and supervision of their driver was not legally sufficient.

According to Article 1759 of the Civil Code, their liability as a common carrier did not cease upon proof that they exercised all the diligence of a good father of a family in the selection and supervision of their employee.

At any rate, the lower courts correctly held both the Pereñas and the PNR “jointly and severally” liable for damages arising from the death of Aaron. They had been impleaded in the same complaint as defendants against whom the Zarates had the right to relief, whether jointly, severally, or in the alternative, in respect to or arising out of the accident, and questions of fact and of law were common as to the Zarates.

The RTC observed that the fact that a crossing guard had been assigned to man that point from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. was a good indicium that the PNR was aware of the risks to others as well as the need to control the vehicular and other traffic there. Verily, the Pereñas and the PNR were joint tortfeasors.

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