Civil liability, indemnify (Article 20, Civil Code)

Every person who, contrary to law, willfully or negligently causes damage to another, shall indemnify the latter for the same. (Article 20 of the New Civil Code of the Philippines)
Article 20 punishes (not criminally but only civilly) illegal acts. It does not matter whether such act be done willfully or negligently. In relation to this, Article 2176 provides: "Whoever by act or omission causes damage to another, there being fault or negligence, is obliged to pay for the damage done." Civil Code). Article 2176 is considered as a basic provision on tort (otherwise known as quasi-delict).

Article 20 echoes a basic principle in criminal law, i.e., every person criminally liable shall likewise be civilly liable. (Article 100 of Act No. 3815 or the Revised Penal Code) For example, if one kills another person either by recklessly or imprudently driving a car or by deliberately aiming and firing a gun, there is civil liability. This is regardless of the filing or success of a criminal action against the offender.

In other words, Article 20, etc. are enough legal bases to proceed against a person even if the criminal action is not filed, does not proceed, gets dismissed or results in acquittal. The law on tort is a separate source of obligation than criminal law.

In Banal v. Tadeo, Jr., G.R. Nos. 78911-25, December 11, 1987, the Supreme Court held that regardless of whether or not a special law so provides, indemnification of the offended party may be on account of the damage, loss or injury directly suffered as a consequence of the wrongful act of another. The indemnity which a person is sentenced to pay forms an integral part of the penalty imposed by law for the commission of the crime. Every crime gives rise to a penal or criminal action for the punishment of the guilty party, and also to civil action for the restitution of the thing, repair of the damage, and indemnification for the losses. (United States v. Bernardo, 19 Phil. 265)

In the above-cited case of Banal v. Tadeo, Jr., the argument was that Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 punishes the act of knowingly issuing worthless checks as an offense against public order. As such (being a crime against public order, not a crime against persons, etc.), it is argued that it is the State and the public that are the principal complainants and, therefore, no civil indemnity is provided for by Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 for which a private party or prosecutor may intervene.

Citing Lozano v. Hon. Martinez (G.R. No. 63419, December 18, 1986), the Supreme Court held that, although the effects of a worthless check transcend the private interests of the parties directly involved in the transaction and touch the interests of the community at large, the wrong done to the private party defrauded has to be recognized as well. The mischief it creates is not only a wrong to the payee or the holder, but also an injury to the public. (G.R. Nos. 78911-25, December 11, 1987)

Thus, civil liability to the offended private party cannot be denied. The payee of the check is entitled to receive the payment of money for which the worthless check was issued. Having suffered damages, she is entitled to recompense. (G.R. Nos. 78911-25, December 11, 1987)

EVEN IF NO CRIMINAL ACTION IS PURSUED. As mentioned above, civil liability arising from tort is a separate source of obligation. Article 1157 says: "Obligations arise from: (1) Law; (2) Contracts; (3) Quasi-contracts; (4) Acts or omissions punished by law; and (5) Quasi-delicts." (Civil Code) Therefore, even if the aggrieved party does not intent to file criminal charges against the offending party, an action for damages may still proceed and prosper.

EVEN IF A CRIMINAL COMPLAINT WAS DISMISSED BY THE PROSECUTOR. In Conrado Bunag, Jr. vs. CA, et al., G.R. No. 101749, July 10, 1992, a case of forcible abduction with rape was dismissed by the fiscal’s office of Pasay City. One of the issues raised was the effect of the said dismissal on the liability of the accused for damages.

The Supreme Court said that the dismissal of the complaint for forcible abduction with rape was by mere resolution of the fiscal at the preliminary investigation stage. There is no declaration in the final judgment that the fact from which the civil case might arise did not exist. Consequently, the dismissal did not in any way affect the right of herein private respondent to institute a civil action arising from the offense because such preliminary dismissal of the penal action did not carry with it the extinction of the civil action.

The reason most often given for this holding is that the two proceedings involved are not between the same parties. Furthermore, it has long been emphasized, with continuing validity up to now, that there are different rules as to the competency of witnesses, and the quantum of evidence in criminal and civil proceedings. In a criminal action, the State must prove its case by evidence which shows the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt, while in a civil action, it is sufficient for the plaintiff to sustain his cause by preponderance of evidence only. (Ocampo vs. Jenkins, et al., 14 Phil. 681). Thus, in Rillon, et al. vs. Rillon, it was stressed that it is not now necessary that a criminal prosecution for rape be first instituted and prosecuted to final judgment before a civil action based on said offense in favor of the offended woman can likewise be instituted and prosecuted to final judgment.
WHEN A CRIMINAL ACTION IS PENDING. The pendency of a criminal action in court will, generally, cause the suspension of the civil action for damages arising from the same act or omission. When the civil action is based on an obligation not arising from the act or omission complained of as a felony, such civil action may proceed independently of the criminal proceedings and regardless of the result of the latter. (Article 31, Civil Code)

In cases of defamation, fraud, and physical injuries a civil action for damages, entirely separate and distinct from the criminal action, may be brought by the injured party. Such civil action shall proceed independently of the criminal prosecution, and shall require only a preponderance of evidence. When a member of a city or municipal police force refuses or fails to render aid or protection to any person in case of danger to life or property, such peace officer shall be primarily liable for damages, and the city or municipality shall be subsidiarily responsible therefor. The civil action herein recognized shall be independent of any criminal proceedings, and a preponderance of evidence shall suffice to support such action. (Article 33-34, Civil Code)

WHEN THE ACCUSED GETS ACQUITTED. The acquittal of the accused does not necessarily mean his absolution from civil liability. 

Our law recognizes two kinds of acquittal, with different effects on the civil liability of the accused. First is an acquittal on the ground that the accused is not the author of the act or omission complained of. This instance closes the door to civil liability, for a person who has been found to be not the perpetrator of any act or omission cannot and can never be held liable for such act or omission. There being no delict, civil liability ex delicto is out of the question, and the civil action, if any, which may be instituted must be based on grounds other than the delict complained of. This is the situation contemplated in Rule 111 of the Rules of Court. The second instance is an acquittal based on reasonable doubt on the guilt of the accused. In this case, even if the guilt of the accused has not been satisfactorily established, he is not exempt from civil liability which may be proved by preponderance of evidence only. (G.R. No. 163753, January 15, 2014)

The acquittal of the accused does not automatically preclude a judgment against him on the civil aspect of the case.1âwphi1 The extinction of the penal action does not carry with it the extinction of the civil liability where: (a) the acquittal is based on reasonable doubt as only preponderance of evidence is required; (b) the court declares that the liability of the accused is only civil; and (c) the civil liability of the accused does not arise from or is not based upon the crime of which the accused is acquitted. However, the civil action based on delictmay be deemed extinguished if there is a finding on the final judgment in the criminal action that the act or omission from which the civil liability may arise did not exist or where the accused did not commit the acts or omission imputed to him. (Daluraya v. Oliva, G.R. No. 210148, December 8, 2014, citing Dayap v. Sendiong, 597 Phil. 127)

Popular Posts