• School bus operator could be held liable for student-passenger’s death

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    Persida Acosta

    Dear PAO,
    My sister contracted a school bus to bring my nephew to his school in Makati City and back to their house in Las Piñas City. He is a high school student. One school day last year, the driver took a different route because of heavy traffic. Unfortunately, the bus figured in an accident and my nephew died in an instant. Could the bus operator be held liable for the driver’s misdeed? Could it include the issue of possible income my nephew would have made if he lived?
    Sincerely yours,
    Thevi

    Dear Thevi,
    The case of Spouses Teodoro, et al. vs. Spouse Nicolas, et al. (G.R. No. 157917, August 29, 2012) penned by Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin can enlighten you in your situation. It clearly stated:

    “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. 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. 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 Ac, 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. (Emphasis supplied)

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    “… [T]he concept of a common carrier embodied in Article1732 of the Civil Code coincides neatly with the notion of public service under the Public Service Act, which supplements the law on common carriers found in the Civil Code. Public service, according to Section 13, paragraph (b) of the Public Service Act, includes:
    x x x every person that now or hereafter may own, operate, manage, or control in the Philippines, for hire or compensation, with general or limited clientèle, whether permanent or occasional, and done for the general business purposes, any common carrier, railroad, street railway, traction railway, subway motor vehicle, either for freight or passenger, or both, with or without fixed route and whatever may be its classification, freight or carrier service of any class, express service, steamboat or steamship line, pontines, ferries and water craft, engaged in the transportation of passengers or freight or both, shipyard, marine repair shop, ice-refrigeration plant, canal, irrigation system, gas, electric light, heat and power, water supply and power petroleum, sewerage system, wire or wireless communications systems, wire or wireless broadcasting stations and other similar public services. x x x.”(Emphasis supplied)

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    “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.” (Emphasis supplied)

    Evidently, the school bus hired by your sister for her son is considered a common carrier; hence, its operator and driver are required to observe extraordinary diligence in all their actions in carrying out their purpose. Since death resulted in the performance of their duty, their neglect is presumed under the circumstances.

    The situation of your nephew falls squarely in the above-cited case. In that case, the passenger is also a high school student. He died going to school when the school bus driver took a different route to where the incident happened. There, considering that the bus operator failed to avert the presumption of neglect, the Supreme Court upheld the awards of the lower courts including such amount that the child may probably earn had his life not been taken by the unfortunate event.

    Hence, following the precepts of the above-quoted case, your sister and her family may have a strong case against the bus operator. In addition to this, they may consequently obtain the awards for damages stated in the decision in view of your nephew’s passing.

    Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.

    We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.

    Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net

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