My child is an incoming elementary-school pupil. Because of the nature of my work, I cannot personally bring him to and fetch him from school every day so I am thinking of getting a school-bus service for him. May I know what the responsibilities of the school-bus operator would be if I signed up for its service?
A school service contract essentially involves an agreement between a parent or guardian and the school service provider to take a student to school and back home. That said, a school service provider is essentially engaged in the business of transporting students of a particular school or a number of schools from their residence to the school grounds and vice versa. In a legal perspective, a person or entity engaged in the business of transporting passengers is referred to as a “carrier.”
There are two types of carriers: common and private. The distinction between the two types of carriers is important in terms of their legal responsibility to their passengers. Basically, a common carrier is bound by stricter rules compared to a private carrier. It has responsibilities specifically provided by law that a private carrier does not incur.
Concerning school service, the Supreme Court ruled in a case that the operator of a school service is a common carrier in the eyes of the law. The court reasoned that it passes the test of a common carrier. To wit, it is engaged in transporting passengers generally as a business, not just as a casual occupation; it undertakes to carry passengers over established roads by the method by which the business was conducted; and it charges fees. A school service provider holds itself as a ready transportation indiscriminately to students of a particular school living within or near where they operate the service and for a fee (Pereña vs. Nicolas, G.R. No. 157917, August 29, 2012).
As earlier mentioned, a common carrier is bound by stricter rules. Because of the nature of its activity or business that involves public interest and safety, a common carrier is required to adhere to high standards of care with respect to its passengers or goods that it is transporting. Under the law, the common carrier is obliged to observe extraordinary diligence for the safety of its passengers. (Art. 1733, Ibid.) This means that a common carrier is bound to carry its passengers safely as far as human care and foresight can provide, using the utmost diligence of very cautious persons, with due regard to all the circumstances. (Art. 1755, Ibid.) Such diligence is higher than the ordinary diligence, commonly referred to as diligence of a good father of a family, required of a person.
To further protect the public, our laws place a presumption of fault or negligence on the part of the common carrier, the moment an accident occurs. According to the law, in case of death of or injuries to its passengers, a common carrier is presumed to be at fault and negligent and it may only avoid responsibility for the death or injury, if it can prove that it observed extraordinary diligence. (Art. 1756, Ibid.)
Following the foregoing, a school service provider, as a common carrier, is required by law to observe extraordinary diligence to ensure the safety of the students it carries. Should an untoward incident occur and a student passenger is injured, the school service provider will be presumed to be at fault and negligent, and therefore liable, unless it can prove that it observed extraordinary diligence.
Please be reminded that this opinion is based on the facts you narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary if facts are changed or elaborated.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org