CASE DIGEST: Spouses Perena vs. Zarate

G.R. No. 157917 : August 29, 2012

SPOUSES TEODORO and NANETTE PERENA, Petitioners, v. SPOUSES NICOLAS and TERESITA L. ZARATE, PHILIPPINE NATIONAL RAILWAYS, and the COURT OF APPEALS, Respondents.

BERSAMIN, J.:


FACTS:

Spouses Teodoro and Nanette Peres (Peres) were engaged in the business of transporting students from their respective residences in Paraque City to Don Bosco in Pasong Tamo, Makati City, and back. They employed Clemente Alfaro (Alfaro) as driver of the van. Spouses Nicolas and Teresita Zarate (Zarates) contracted the Peres to transport their son Aaron to and from Don Bosco.

Considering that the students were due at Don Bosco by 7:15 a.m., and that 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. The railroad crossing in the narrow path had no railroad warning signs, or watchmen, or other responsible persons manning the crossing. In fact, the bamboo barandilla was up, leaving the railroad crossing open to traversing motorists.

At about the time the van was to traverse the railroad crossing, PNR Commuter No. 302 (train), was in the vicinity of the Magallanes Interchange travelling 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. The passenger bus successfully crossed the railroad tracks, but the van driven by Alfaro did not. 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.

Thus, the Zarates sued the Peres for breach of contract of carriage and the PNR for quasi-delict. The RTC ruled in favor of the Zarates. On appeal, the CA affirmed the findings of the RTC.

ISSUE: Whether or not the Peres are liable for breach of contract of carriage?

HELD: The petition has no merit.

CIVIL LAW: common carrier; extraordinary diligence

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. The true test for a common carrier is not the quantity or extent of the business actually transacted, or the number and character of the conveyances used in the activity, but whether the undertaking is a part of the activity engaged in by the carrier that he has held out to the general public as his business or occupation.

Applying these considerations to the case before us, there is no question that the Peres 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 clientele, the Peres 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.

Article 1755 of the Civil Code specifies that the common carrier should "carry the passengers safely as far as human care and foresight can provide, using the utmost diligence of very cautious persons, with a due regard for all the circumstances." To successfully fend off liability in an action upon the death or injury to a passenger, the common carrier must prove his or its observance of that extraordinary diligence; otherwise, the legal presumption that he or it was at fault or acted negligently would stand.

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. The Peres were liable for the death of Aaron despite the fact that their driver might have acted beyond the scope of his authority or even in violation of the orders of the common carrier. DENIED.

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