Contributory negligence; train company's negligence

Contributory negligence is conduct on the part of the injured party, contributing as a legal cause to the harm he has suffered, which falls below the standard which he is required to conform for his own protection. It is an act or omission amounting to want of ordinary care on the part of the person injured which, concurring with the defendant’s negligence, is the proximate cause of the injury.[1]In one case, the Supreme Court ruled it could not see how respondents could have contributed to their injury when they were not even aware of the forthcoming danger. It was established during the trial that the jeepney carrying respondents was following a ten-wheeler truck which was only about three to five meters ahead. When the truck proceeded to traverse the railroad track, Reynaldo, the driver of the jeepney, simply followed through. He did so under the impression that it was safe to proceed. It bears noting that the prevailing circumstances immediately before the collision did not manifest even the slightest indication of an imminent harm. To begin with, the truck they were trailing was able to safely cross the track. Likewise, there was no crossing bar to prevent them from proceeding or, at least, a stoplight or signage to forewarn them of the approaching peril. Thus, relying on his faculties of sight and hearing, Reynaldo had no reason to anticipate the impending danger. He proceeded to cross the track and, all of a sudden, his jeepney was rammed by the train being operated by petitioners. Even then, the circumstances before the collision negate the imputation of contributory negligence on the part of the respondents. What clearly appears is that the accident would not have happened had the petitioners installed reliable and adequate safety devices along the crossing to ensure the safety of all those who may utilize the same. (PNR v. Vizcara, G.R. No. 190022, February 15, 2012)

The Supreme Court continued, saying that, at this age of modern transportation, a train company should exert serious efforts to catch up with the trend, including the contemporary standards in railroad safety. As an institution established to alleviate public transportation, it is the duty of the PNR to promote the safety and security of the general riding public and provide for their convenience, which to a considerable degree may be accomplished by the installation of precautionary warning devices. Every railroad crossing must be installed with barriers on each side of the track to block the full width of the road until after the train runs past the crossing. To even draw closer attention, the railroad crossing may be equipped with a device which rings a bell or turns on a signal light to signify the danger or risk of crossing. It is similarly beneficial to mount advance warning signs at the railroad crossing, such as a reflectorized crossbuck sign to inform motorists of the existence of the track, and a stop, look and listen signage to prompt the public to take caution. These warning signs must be erected in a place where they will have ample lighting and unobstructed visibility both day and night. If only these safety devices were installed at the railroad crossing and the accident nevertheless occurred, we could have reached a different disposition in the extent of the petitioner’s liability. (PNR v. Vizcara, G.R. No. 190022, February 15, 2012)

[1] See National Power Corporation v. Heirs of Noble Casionan, G.R. No. 165969, November 27, 2008, 572 SCRA 71, 81-82, citing Estacion v. Bernardo, 518 Phil. 388, 401 (2006); Ma-ao Sugar Central Co., Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 83491, August 27, 1990, 189 SCRA 88, 93.