Separate, independent civil action for defamation, fraud and physical injuries (Article 33, 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, shall require only a preponderance of evidence. (Article 33, Civil Code) Article 33 speaks of separate and independent civil actions even if the basis of the liability is the the act or omission complained of as a crime as long as the case is one of defamation, fraud or physical injuries.

The words "defamation," "fraud" and "physical injuries" are general terms which should be given their general meanings. For example, in Carandang v. Santiago, it was held that murder and homicide are within the term "physical injuries," the same way libel and slander are within "defamation" and the same way "fraud" is covered by estafa and other crimes involving fraud. The Supreme Court explained:
The Article in question uses the words "defamation", "fraud" and "physical injuries." Defamation and fraud are used in their ordinary sense because there are no specific provisions in the Revised Penal Code using these terms as means of offenses defined therein, so that these two terms defamation and fraud must have been used not to impart to them any technical meaning in the laws of the Philippines, but in their generic sense. With this apparent circumstance in mind, it is evident that the term "physical injuries" could not have been used in its specific sense as a crime defined in the Revised Penal Code, for it is difficult to believe that the Code Commission would have used terms in the same article—some in their general and another in its technical sense. In other words, the term "physical injuries" should be understood to mean bodily injury, not the crime of physical injuries, because the terms used with the latter, are general terms. In any case the Code Commission recommended that the civil action for physical injuries be similar to the civil action for assault and battery in American Law, and this recommendation must have been accepted by the Legislature when it approved the article intact as recommended. If the intent has been to establish a civil action for the bodily harm received by the complainant similar to the civil action for assault and battery, as the Code Commission states, the civil action should lie whether the offense committed is that of physical injuries, or frustrated homicide, or attempted homicide, or even death. (Carandang v. Santiago, G.R. No. L-8238, May 25, 1955)
A question, however, has been raised as to the applicability of Article 33 to crimes of reckless imprudence under Article 365 of Act No. 3815 or the Revised Penal Code. Surprisingly, the High Court, in Corpus v. Paje (G.R. No. L-26737, July 31, 1969), said:
Criminal negligence, that is, reckless imprudence, is not one of the three crimes mentioned in Article 33 of the Civil Code which authorizes the institution of an independent civil action, that is, of an entirely separate and dis­tinct civil action for damages, which shall proceed independently of the criminal prosecution and shall be proved only by a preponderance of evidence. Said article mentions only the crimes of defamation, fraud (estafa) and physical injuries. Although in the case of Dyogi, et al. vs. Yatco, et al., G. R. No. L-9623, January 22, 1957, this Court held that the term "physical injuries" used in article 33 of the Civil Code includes homicide, it is to be borne in mind that the charge against Felardo Paje was for reckless imprudence resulting in homicide, and not for homicide and physical injuries.

The explanation for this has been that Article 365 punishes not the physical injuries or the homicide that results from the reckless imprudence or negligence. Hence, what the law punishes is the negligent or careless act, not the result. In intentional crimes, the act itself is punished; in negligence or imprudence, what is principally penalized is the mental attitude or condition behind the act, the dangerous recklessness, lack of care or foresight, the imprudencia punible. (G.R. No. 172716, November 17, 2010) Since negligence is not mentioned in Article 33, there is a view that reckless imprudence is not covered.

Notwithstanding the above, it does not mean that there can never be an independent and separate civil action for reckless imprudence. Under the Civil Code, whoever by act or omission causes damage to another, there being fault or negligence, is obliged to pay for the damage done. Such fault or negligence, if there is no pre-existing contractual relation between the parties, is called a quasi-delict. 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. (Article 2176 and Article 2177)

In negligence cases, the aggrieved party has the choice between (1) an action to enforce civil liability arising from crime under Article 100 of the Revised Penal Code; and (2) a separate action for quasi delict under Article 2176 of the Civil Code of the Philippines. Once the choice is made, the injured party can not avail himself of any other remedy because he may not recover damages twice for the same negligent act or omission of the accused. This is the rule against double recovery. (Reyes Trucking v. People, G.R. No. 129029, April 03, 2000)

The underlying purpose of the principles under Article 33 is to allow the citizen to enforce his rights in a private action brought by him, regardless of the action of the prosecutor. It is not conducive to civic spirit and to individual self-reliance and initiative to habituate the citizens to depend upon the government for the vindication of their own private rights. It is true that in many of the cases referred to in the provisions cited, a criminal prosecution is proper, but it should be remembered that while the State is the complainant in the criminal case, the injured individual is the one most concerned because it is he who has suffered directly. He should be permitted to demand reparation for the wrong which peculiarly affects him. In England and the United States, the individual may bring an action in tort for assault and battery, false imprisonment, libel and slander, deceit, trespass, malicious prosecution, and other acts which also fall within the criminal statutes. This independent civil action is in keeping with the spirit of individual initiative and the intense awareness of one’s individual rights in those countries. (Report of the Code Commission, pages 46-47)

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