Quasi-Delict / Tort

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Tort or quasi-delict as a civil wrong – A quasi-delict or tort is “the wrongful act or negligent act or omission which creates a vinculum juris and gives rise to an obligation between two persons not formally bound by any other obligation.”[1] Hence, a person is liable for damages against another who suffers damage as a result of the former’s acts or omissions which are the proximate cause, whether the same is due to negligence or fault, and there is no pre-existing contractual relation between the two persons.[2]

Catch-all provisions on human relations – In the exercise of his rights and in the performance of his duties, ever person is obligated to act with justice, give everyone his due, and observe honesty and good faith.[3] Whether willfully or negligently, a person in contravention of the law causes damage to another is required to indemnify the latter for the damage done.[4] Only when willful, a person causing loss or injury to another in a manner that is contrary to morals, good customs, or public policy is obligated to compensate the latter for the damage.[5]

Vinzons-Chato v. Fortune
G.R. No. 141309, 19 June 2007

In her official capacity as BIR Commissioner, Liwayway Vinzons-Chato issued RMC 37-93 reclassifying the cigarettes of Fortune as locally made with foreign brand resulting in the issuance of a tax assessment imposing higher taxes when the Tobacco law came into effect. After Fortune secured a Supreme Court decision invalidating the said circular, the corporation filed an action for tort under Article 32 of the Civil Code claiming that Vinzons-Chato violated its constitutional right to due process, among others. In a bid to dismiss the case, Vinzons-Chato claimed that she should not be held liable since Administrative Code provisions state that she can only be held civilly liable for acts done in her official capacity (rule on immunity for official actions) if there is a clear showing of bad faith, malice or gross ignorance. Hence, she claimed that the corporation has no cause of action.

HELD: The Corporation had a cause of action. Article 32 of the Civil Code (and not the Administrative Code) is a tort provision which does not require malice/evil intent on the offender as the wrongful act may either be intentional or unintentional. Considering that Fortune’s constitutional right to due process was wronged, it had a cause of action.

Liwayway Vinzons-Chato v. Fortune
G.R. No. 141309, 23 December 2008 (En Banc)

On motion for reconsideration, the complaint was dismissed for failing to state a cause of action. An individual can hold a public officer personally liable for damages on account of an act or omission that violates a constitutional right only if it results in a particular wrong or injury to the former. The complaint did not state any particular injury suffered by the corporation. Likewise, no amount was collected even if there was a tax assessment levied on the corporation arising from RMC 37-93.

A party may file suit for quasi-delict despite the existence of a contract – Despite the existence of a contractual relation, a party will not be precluded from filing quasi-delict against the other.

Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines, Inc. v. Court of Appeals
G.R. No. 110295, 18 October 1993

A store-operator in a kindergarten school filed suit against Coca-Cola claiming that she closed shop and lost her livelihood after incurring heavy losses due to fiber like materials in her stock of coca-cola soft drinks. As a defense, Coca-cola claimed that her cause of action, if any, is for breach of contract – and not quasi-delict.

HELD: Coca-cola was liable for breach of contract and quasi-delict. “The vendor could likewise be liable for quasi-delict under Article 2176 of the Civil Code, and an action based thereon may be brought by the vendee. While it may be true that the pre-existing contract between the parties may, as a general rule, bar the applicability of the law on quasi-delict, the liability may itself be deemed to arise from quasi-delict, i.e., the acts which breaks the contract may also be a quasi-delict.”

Vicarious liability for quasi-delict – The liability for quasi-delict extends to “those persons for whom one is responsible”, including an employee.[6] This is generally referred to as vicarious or imputed liability.[7] “Although the employer is not the actual tortfeasor, the law makes him vicariously liable on the basis of the civil law principle of pater familias for failure to exercise due care and vigilance over the acts of one’s subordinates to prevent damage to another. In the last paragraph of Article 2180 of the Civil Code, the employer may invoke the defense that he observed all the diligence of a good father of a family to prevent damage.”[8]

Castilex Industrial Corporation v. Vasquez
G.R. No. 132266, 21 December 1999

Complainants are the heirs of Romeo So Vasquez who died after being hit by a company-issued vehicle driven by Benjamin Abad, who was a manager of defendant Castilex Industrial Corporation. The incident happened around 2:00 am when Abad was on his way home from a “lively” restaurant after doing overtime work and leaving with the vehicle. In their Defense, Castilex claimed that Abad was not acting within the scope of his functions when the incident happened.

HELD: Castilex Industrial Corporation was not liable. “The mere fact that ABAD was using a service vehicle at the time of the injurious incident is not of itself sufficient to charge [the Corporation] with liability for the negligent operation of said vehicle unless it appears that he was operating the vehicle within the course or scope of his employment.

“The following are principles in American Jurisprudence on the employer’s liability for the injuries inflicted by the negligence of an employee in the use of an employer’s motor vehicle:

I.  Operation of Employer’s Motor Vehicle in Going to or from Meals

“It has been held that an employee who uses his employer’s vehicle in going from his work to a place where he intends to eat or in returning to work from a meal is not ordinarily acting within the scope of his employment in the absence of evidence of some special business benefit to the employer.  Evidence that by using the employer’s vehicle to go to and from meals, an employee is enabled to reduce his time-off and so devote more time to the performance of his duties supports the finding that an employee is acting within the scope of his employment while so driving the vehicle.

II.  Operation of Employer’s Vehicle in Going to or from Work

“In the same vein, traveling to and from the place of work is ordinarily a personal problem or concern of the employee, and not a part of his services to his employer.  Hence, in the absence of some special benefit to the employer other than the mere performance of the services available at the place where he is needed, the employee is not acting within the scope of his employment even though he uses his employer’s motor vehicle.

“The employer may, however, be liable where he derives some special benefit from having the employee drive home in the employer’s vehicle as when the employer benefits from having the employee at work earlier and, presumably, spending more time at his actual duties.  Where the employee’s duties require him to circulate in a general area with no fixed place or hours of work, or to go to and from his home to various outside places of work, and his employer furnishes him with a vehicle to use in his work, the courts have frequently applied what has been called the ‘special errand’ or ‘roving commission’ rule, under which it can be found that the employee continues in the service of his employer until he actually reaches home. However, even if the employee be deemed to be acting within the scope of his employment in going to or from work in his employer’s vehicle, the employer is not liable for his negligence where at the time of the accident, the employee has left the direct route to his work or back home and is pursuing a personal errand of his own.

III.  Use of Employer’s Vehicle Outside Regular Working Hours

“An employer who loans his motor vehicle to an employee for the latter’s personal use outside of regular working hours is generally not liable for the employee’s negligent operation of the vehicle during the period of permissive use, even where the employer contemplates that a regularly assigned motor vehicle will be used by the employee for personal as well as business purposes and there is some incidental benefit to the employer.  Even where the employee’s personal purpose in using the vehicle has been accomplished and he has started the return trip to his house where the vehicle is normally kept, it has been held that he has not resumed his employment, and the employer is not liable for the employee’s negligent operation of the vehicle during the return trip.

“The foregoing principles and jurisprudence are applicable in our jurisdiction albeit based on the doctrine of respondeat superior, not on the principle of bonus pater familias as in ours.  Whether the fault or negligence of the employee is conclusive on his employer as in American law or jurisprudence, or merely gives rise to the presumption juris tantum of negligence on the part of the employer as in ours, it is indispensable that the employee was acting in his employer’s business or within the scope of his assigned task.

“In the case at bar, it is undisputed that ABAD did some overtime work at the petitioner’s office, which was located in Cabangcalan, Mandaue City.  Thereafter, he went to Goldie’s Restaurant in Fuente Osmeña, Cebu City, which is about seven kilometers away from petitioner’s place of business. A witness for the private respondents, a sidewalk vendor, testified that Fuente Osmeña is a ‘lively place” ‘even at dawn because Goldie’s Restaurant and Back Street were still open and people were drinking thereat.  Moreover, prostitutes, pimps, and drug addicts littered the place.

“At the Goldie’s Restaurant, ABAD took some snacks and had a chat with friends.  It was when ABAD was leaving the restaurant that the incident in question occurred.  That same witness for the private respondents testified that at the time of the vehicular accident, ABAD was with a woman in his car, who then shouted:  ‘Daddy, Daddy! This woman could not have been ABAD’s daughter, for ABAD was only 29 years old at the time.

“To the mind of this Court, ABAD was engaged in affairs of his own or was carrying out a personal purpose not in line with his duties at the time he figured in a vehicular accident.  It was then about 2:00 a.m. of 28 August 1988, way beyond the normal working hours.  ABAD’s working day had ended; his overtime work had already been completed.  His being at a place which, as [the Corporation puts] it, was known as a ‘haven for prostitutes, pimps, and drug pushers and addicts,’ had no connection to [the Corporation’s] business; neither had it any relation to his duties as a manager.  Rather, using his service vehicle even for personal purposes was a form of a fringe benefit or one of the perks attached to his position.

“Since there is paucity of evidence that ABAD was acting within the scope of the functions entrusted to him, [the Corporation] had no duty to show that it exercised the diligence of a good father of a family in providing ABAD with a service vehicle.  Thus, justice and equity require that petitioner be relieved of vicarious liability for the consequences of the negligence of ABAD in driving its vehicle.” (Citations omitted.)

Same; Registered owner of vehicle – Insofar as third persons are concerned, the registered owner of the motor vehicle is the employer of the negligent driver, and the actual employer is considered merely as an agent of such owner.[9]

Filcar Transport Services v. Espinas
G.R. No. 174156, 20 June 2012

Complainant Jose A. Espinas filed a complaint for quasi-delict against defendant Filcar Transport Services. Previously, complainant Espinas figured in an accident when a vehicle registered under the name of Filcar Transport hit and bumped his car. For its defense, Filar claimed that the driver of the motor vehicle was not its employee.

HELD: Filcar was liable. It is undisputed that Filcar is the registered owner of the motor vehicle that hit caused damage to the complainant’s car. “It is well settled that in case of motor vehicle mishaps, the registered owner of the motor vehicle is considered as the employer of the tortfeasor-driver, and is made primarily liable for the tort committed by the latter under Article 2176, in relation with Article 2180, of the Civil Code.”

Consequently, “in so far as third persons are concerned, the registered owner of the motor vehicle is the employer of the negligent driver, and the actual employer is considered merely as an agent of such owner.”

Businesses impressed with public interest expected to exercise “utmost diligence” in the performance of their work – A business impressed with public interest is expected from them to exercise utmost diligence in the performance of their work.[10] Thus, even if the law did not require it to put such alarms, it was still required to do so as a matter of public duty or public safety.

Philippine National Railways v.  Brunty
G.R. No. 169891, 02 November 2006

Rhonda Brunty, who came to the Philippines for a visit is the daughter of complainant Ethel Brunty and an American citizen, died due to an accident when the car she was in collided with a Philippine National Railways (PNR) train. Previously, Rhonda, along with her Filipino host Juan Manuel M. Garcia and their driver, was on their way to Baguio on a Mercedes Benz sedan. Around 2:00 am, approaching a railroad crossing, the driver speeding at 70km/hr overtook a vehicle. Unaware, they collided with the train. Rhonda and the driver died, with Juan suffering severe injuries.

Brunty’s heirs filed a Complaint for damages claiming that PNR was negligent for not having placed no flag bar, red light signal, and other mechanisms in the railroad classing where the accident happen. PNR claimed that the law did not require it to put such alarms.

HELD: PNR was liable. PNR’s business is impressed with public interest; hence, it is expected from them to exercise utmost diligence in the performance of their work. Thus, even if the law did not require it to put such alarms, it was still required to do so as a matter of public duty or public safety.

It may broadly be stated that railroad companies owe to the public a duty of exercising a reasonable degree of care to avoid injury to persons and property at railroad crossings, which duties pertain both in the operation of trains and in the maintenance of the crossings. Moreover, every corporation constructing or operating a railway shall make and construct at all points where such railway crosses any public road, good, sufficient, and safe crossings and erect at such points, at a sufficient elevation from such road as to admit a free passage of vehicles of every kind, a sign with large and distinct letters placed thereon, to give notice of the proximity of the railway, and warn persons of the necessity of looking out for trains.

This Court has previously determined the liability of the PNR for damages for its failure to put a cross bar, or signal light, flagman or switchman, or semaphores. Such failure is evidence of negligence and disregard of the safety of the public, even if there is no law or ordinance requiring it because public safety demands that said device or equipment be installed.”

Garcia v. Salvador
G.R. No. 168512, 20 March 2007

As part of the requirement for her employment, trainee Salvador underwent a medical check-up with a clinic owned and operated by defendant Garcia. Salvador, an employee of the clinic, conducted HBs Ag blood tests and released the results showing she had Hepatitis B. She lost her job. After informing her father, he died of heart attack. Meanwhile, she went to a hospital for a second check-up and 2 check-ups again with Garcia to confirm her condition. This time all results showed negative. She was rehired. She sued Garcia for damages.

HELD: Garcia was liable. He was negligent for failing to follow the laws relative to running a clinic. In sum, the clinic failed to comply with the following: (1) that a licensed physician should supervise it; (2) that HBs Ag test be conducted with supervision by a licensed physician; and (3) that the test result be released with authorization from the supervisor.

The elements of an actionable conduct are as follows: (a) duty on the part of the defendant; (b) breach of such duty by the defendant; (c) injury caused to the plaintiff due to such breach; and (d) proximate cause of the injury is the breach of duty.

[1] Sps. Erlinda Batal and Frank Batal v. Sps. Luiz San Pedro and Kenichiro Tominaga, G.R. No. 164601, 27 September 2006, citing Arturo M. Tolentino, Commentaries and Jurisprudence on the Civil Code of the Philippines 592 (1992).

[2] CIVIL CODE. Article 2176, cf. 2217.

[3] Ibid. Article 19.

[4] Ibid. Article 20.

[5] Ibid. Article 21.

[6] Ibid. Paragraph 1, Article 2180.

[7] Sps. Buenaventura v. Jayme, et al., v. Rodrigo Apostol, G.R. No. 163609, 27 November 2008.

[8] Filcar Transport Services v. Jose A. Espinas, G.R. No. 174156, 20 June 2012.

[9] Filcar Transport Services v. Jose A. Espina, G.R. No. 174156, 20 June 2012.

[10] Philippine National Railways v. Ethel Brunty, et al., G.R. No. 169891, 02 November 2006.

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