Thursday, February 03, 2011

Can you Dig’ Bus Disasters?

The "Can You Dig’ It?" series is this blogger’s attempt in hitting the ratio decidendi of a particular case decided by the Supreme Court of the Philippines. This series of self-authored compendiums is this blogger’s way of suppressing the rigorous life in law school.

G.R. No. L-10126 October 22, 1957
Montemayor, J.

"In 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."

A bus operated by its owner defendant Mariano Medina was on its way to Pasay City. Among the passengers was Juan Bataclan. While the bus was running, one of the front tires burst and the vehicle began to zig-zag until it fell into a canal or ditch on the right side of the road and turned turtle. Bataclan and three others could not get out of the overturned bus.

After half an hour, came about ten men, one of them carrying a lighted torch made of bamboo, evidently fueled with petroleum. These men presumably approach the overturned bus, and almost immediately, a fierce fire started, burning and all but consuming the bus, including the four passengers trapped inside it. The lighted torch brought by one of the men who answered the call for help set it on fire.

"Come to think of it, my tenure is filled with bus disasters eh?..."

By reason of his Bataclan’s death, his widow brought the present suit to recover from Mariano Medina compensatory, moral, and exemplary damages and attorney's fees in the total amount of P87,150. After trial, the Court of First Instance of Cavite awarded P1,000 to the plaintiffs plus P600 as attorney's fee, plus P100, the value of the merchandise being carried by Bataclan to Pasay City for sale and which was lost in the fire. The trial court was of the opinion that the proximate cause of the death of Bataclan was not the overturning of the bus, but rather, the fire that burned the bus; that at the time the fire started, Bataclan was still alive, and so damages are awarded, not for his death, but for the physical injuries suffered by him.

The plaintiffs and the defendants appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals. The latter endorsed the appeal to the SC because of the value involved in the claim.

Whether or not defendant is liable for the death of the victim

Yes. Pursuant to the provisions of the civil code, in 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.

The SC disagrees with the trial court’s ruling. Proximate cause is defined that cause, which, in natural and continuous sequence, unbroken by any efficient intervening cause, produces the injury, and without which the result would not have occurred.

In the present, the proximate cause was the overturning of the bus, this for the reason that when the vehicle turned not only on its side but completely on its back, the leaking of the gasoline from the tank was not unnatural or unexpected and that because it was dark, the rescuers had to carry a light with them. In other words, the coming of the men with a torch was to be expected and was a natural sequence of the overturning of the bus, the trapping of some of its passengers and the call for outside help.

Moreover, the burning of the bus can also in part be attributed to the negligence of the carrier, through is driver and its conductor. According to the witness, the driver and the conductor were on the road walking back and forth. They, or at least, the driver should and must have known that in the position in which the overturned bus was, gasoline could and must have leaked from the gasoline tank and soaked the area in and around the bus, this aside from the fact that gasoline when spilled can be smelt and directed even from a distance, and yet neither the driver nor the conductor would appear to have cautioned or taken steps to warn the rescuers not to bring the lighted torch too near the bus.

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