Foundations of culpa aquiliana

This is a discussion about and a reiteration of Barredo vs. Garcia, 73 Phil. 607. In that case, the Supreme Court said, on the basis of a scholarly dissertation by Justice Bocobo on the nature of culpa aquiliana in relation to culpa criminal or delito and mere culpa or fault, with pertinent citation of decisions of the Supreme Court of Spain, the works of recognized civil law authors, and earlier jurisprudence in the Philippines, that the same given act can result in civil liability not only under the Penal Code but also under the Civil Code.

It will be noticed that the defendant in the above case could have been prosecuted in a criminal case because his negligence causing the death of the child was punishable by the Penal Code. This therefore is a clear instance of the same act of negligence being a proper subject matter either of a criminal action with its consequent civil liability arising from a crime or of an entirely separate and independent civil action for fault or negligence under Article 1902 of the old Civil Code. Thus, in this jurisdiction, the separate individuality of a cuasi-delito (quasi-delict) or culpa aquiliana, under the Civil Code has been fully and clearly recognized, even with regard to a negligent act for which the wrongdoer could have been prosecuted and convicted in a criminal case and for which, after such a conviction, he could have been sued for this civil liability arising from his crime. (p. 617, 73 Phil.) 2

The Supreme Court has, in many cases, specifically applied Article 1902 of the old Civil Code. It is thus that, although the accused can be criminally prosecuted for reckless or simple negligence and not only punished but also made civilly liable because of his criminal negligence, nevertheless, the High Court awarded damages in an independent civil action for fault or negligence under article 1902 of the Civil Code.

The following are the foundations of this legal doctrine:

Firstly, the Revised Penal Code in articles 365 punishes not only reckless but also simple negligence. If we were to hold that articles 1902 to 1910 of the Civil Code refer only to fault or negligence not punished by law, accordingly to the literal import of article 1093 of the Civil Code, the legal institution of culpa aquiliana would have very little scope and application in actual life. Death or injury to persons and damage to property- through any degree of negligence - even the slightest - would have to be Idemnified only through the principle of civil liability arising from a crime. In such a state of affairs, what sphere would remain for cuasi-delito or culpa aquiliana? We are loath to impute to the lawmaker any intention to bring about a situation so absurd and anomalous. Nor are we, in the interpretation of the laws, disposed to uphold the letter that killeth rather than the spirit that giveth life. We will not use the literal meaning of the law to smother and render almost lifeless a principle of such ancient origin and such full-grown development as culpa aquiliana or cuasi-delito, which is conserved and made enduring in articles 1902 to 1910 of the Spanish Civil Code.

Secondary, to find the accused guilty in a criminal case, proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt is required, while in a civil case, preponderance of evidence is sufficient to make the defendant pay in damages. There are numerous cases of criminal negligence which can not be shown beyond reasonable doubt, but can be proved by a preponderance of evidence. In such cases, the defendant can and should be made responsible in a civil action under articles 1902 to 1910 of the Civil Code. Otherwise. there would be many instances of unvindicated civil wrongs. "Ubi jus Idemnified remedium." (p. 620,73 Phil.)

Fourthly, because of the broad sweep of the provisions of both the Penal Code and the Civil Code on this subject, which has given rise to the overlapping or concurrence of spheres already discussed, and for lack of understanding of the character and efficacy of the action for culpa aquiliana, there has grown up a common practice to seek damages only by virtue of the civil responsibility arising from a crime, forgetting that there is another remedy, which is by invoking articles 1902-1910 of the Civil Code. Although this habitual method is allowed by, our laws, it has nevertheless rendered practically useless and nugatory the more expeditious and effective remedy based on culpa aquiliana or culpa extra-contractual. In the present case, we are asked to help perpetuate this usual course. But we believe it is high time we pointed out to the harms done by such practice and to restore the principle of responsibility for fault or negligence under articles 1902 et seq. of the Civil Code to its full rigor. It is high time we caused the stream of quasi-delict or culpa aquiliana to flow on its own natural channel, so that its waters may no longer be diverted into that of a crime under the Penal Code. This will, it is believed, make for the better safeguarding or private rights because it realtor, an ancient and additional remedy, and for the further reason that an independent civil action, not depending on the issues, limitations and results of a criminal prosecution, and entirely directed by the party wronged or his counsel, is more likely to secure adequate and efficacious redress. (p. 621, 73 Phil.)