Interpretation of quasi-delict under Article 2176

Silva v. Peralta, 110 Phil. 57, is a Supreme Court tort case involving fraud. The plaintiff in the said case was induced to live with one of the defendants by deceiving her that he was not married. The defendant was made liable for all the consequences of such fraud on the basis of Article 1902 of the old Civil Code.

Article 2176 is now the provision on quasi-delict under the New Civil Code. The Supreme Court has held that Article 2176 includes intentional acts. (Elcano and Elcano v. Hill and Hill, G.R. No. L-24803, May 26, 1977). The Supreme Court ruled in Elcano that:
“Contrary to an immediate impression one might get upon a reading of the foregoing excerpts from the opinion in Garcia — that the concurrence of the Penal Code and the Civil Code therein referred to contemplate only acts of negligence and not intentional voluntary acts — deeper reflection would reveal that the thrust of the pronouncements therein is not so limited, but that in fact it actually extends to fault or culpa. This can be seen in the reference made therein to the Sentence of the Supreme Court of Spain of February 14, 1919, supra, which involved a case of fraud or estafa, not a negligent act. Indeed, Article 1093 of the Civil Code of Spain, in force here at the time of Garcia, provided textually that obligations “which are derived from acts or omissions in which fault or negligence, not punishable by law, intervene shall be the subject of Chapter II, Title XV of this book (which refers to quasi-delicts).” And it is precisely the underline qualification, “not punishable by law,” that Justice Bocobo emphasized could lead to an undesirable construction or interpretation of the letter of the law that “killeth, rather than the spirit that giveth life” hence, the ruling that “(W)e 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.” And so, because Justice Bocobo was Chairman of the Code Commission that drafted the original text of the new Civil Code, it is to be noted that the said Code, which was enacted after the Garcia doctrine, no longer uses the term, “not punishable by law,” thereby making it clear that the concept of culpa aquiliana includes acts which are criminal in character or in violation of the penal law, whether voluntary or negligent. Thus, the corresponding provisions to said Article 1093 in the new code, which is Article 1162, simply says, “Obligations derived from quasi-delicts shall be governed by the provisions of Chapter 2, Title XVII of this Book, (on quasi-delicts) and by special laws.” More precisely, a new provision, Article 2177 of the new code provides:
“ART. 2177. Responsibility for fault or negligence under the preceding article is entirely separate and distinct from the civil liability arising from negligence under the Penal Code. But the plaintiff cannot recover damages twice for the same act or omission of the defendant.”
According to the Code Commission: “The foregoing provi- sion (Article 2177) though at first sight startling, is not so novel or extraordinary when we consider the exact nature of criminal and civil negligence. The former is a violation of the criminal law, while the latter is a “culpa aquiliana’’ or quasi-delict, of ancient origin, having always had its own foundation and individuality, separate from criminal negligence. Such distinction between criminal negligence and “culpa extra-contractual’’ or “cuasidelito’’ has been sustained by decision of the Supreme Court of Spain and maintained as clear, sound and perfectly tenable by Maura, an outstanding Spanish jurist. Therefore, under the proposed Article 2177, acquittal from an accusation of criminal negligence, whether on reasonable doubt or not, shall not be a bar to a subsequent civil action, not for civil liability arising from criminal negligence, but for damages due to a quasi-delict or “culpa aquiliana.’’ But said article forestalls a double recovery.” (Report of the Code Commission, p. 162).

Although, again, this Article 2177 does seem to literally refer to only acts of negligence, the same argument of Justice Bacobo about construction that upholds “the spirit that giveth life” rather than that which is literal that killeth the intent of the lawmaker should be observed in applying the same. And considering that the preliminary chapter on human relations of the new Civil Code definitely establishes the separability and independence of liability in a civil action for acts criminal in character (under Articles 29 to 32) from the civil responsibility arising from crime fixed by Article 100 of the Revised Penal Code, and, in a sense, the Rules of Court, under Sections 2 and 3(c), Rule 111, contemplate also the same separability, it is “more congruent with the spirit of law, equity and justice, and more in harmony with modern progress,” to borrow the felicitous relevant language in Rakes vs. Atlantic Gulf and Pacific Co., 7 Phil. 359, to hold, as We do hold, that Article 2176, where it refers to “fault or negligence,” covers not only acts “not punishable by law” but also acts criminal in character, whether intentional and voluntary or negligent. Consequently, a separate civil action lies against the offender in a criminal act, whether or not he is criminally prosecuted and found guilty or acquitted, provided that the offended party is not allowed, if he is actually charged also criminally, to recover damages on both scores, and would be entitled in such eventuality only to the bigger award of the two, assuming the awards made in the two cases vary. In other words, the extinction of civil liability referred to in Par. (e) of Section 3, Rule 111, refers exclusively to civil liability founded on Article 100 of the Revised Penal Code, whereas the civil liability for the same act considered as a quasi-delict only and not as a crime is not extinguished even by a declaration in the criminal case that the criminal act charged has not happened or has not been committed by the accused. Briefly stated, We here hold, in reiteration of Garcia, that culpa aquiliana includes voluntary and negligent acts which may be punishable by law.’’

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