G.R. No. L-10605, 30 June 1958, 104 Phil 75
In 1954, Severina Garces and her one- year old son, Precillano Necesito boarded Philippine Rabbit Bus Lines (PRBL) in Pangasinan.
After passing a wooden bridge, the front wheels of the truck suddenly swerved to the right such that the driver lost control, and after wrecking the bridge’s wooden rails, the truck fell on its right side into a creek where water was breast deep.
The mother, Severina Garces, was drowned; the son, Precillano Necesito, was injured, suffering abrasions and fracture of the left femur. Consequently, their money, wrist watch and cargo of vegetables were lost.
Later, two actions for damages and attorney’s fees totalling over P85,000 having been filed in the CFI of Tarlac against the carrier. However, the latter pleaded that the accident was due to “engine or mechanical trouble” independent or beyond the control of the defendants or of the driver Bandonell. It was found out that the accident was caused by the fracture of the right steering knuckle.
After trial, the court, holding that the accident was exclusively due to fortuitous event, dismissed the action.
Plaintiffs appealed directly to the SC in view of the amount in controversy. Thus, this case.
Whether or not the carrier is liable for the manufacturing defect of the steering knuckle.
The court ruled that the proximate cause of the accident was the reduced strength of the steering knuckle of the vehicle caused by defects in casting it.
Under Article 1755 of the Civil Code, a common carrier is bound to carry the passengers safely as far as human care and foresight can provide, using the utmost diligence of very cautious persons, with due regard for all the circumstances.
It is clear that the carrier is not an insurer of the passengers’ safety. His liability rests upon negligence, his failure to exercise the “utmost” degree of diligence that the law requires, and by Art. 1756 of the Civil Code, in case of a passenger’s death or injury the carrier bears the burden of satisfying the court that he has duly discharged the duty of prudence required.
In American jurisprudence, where the carrier is held to the same degree of diligence as under the new Civil Code, the rule on the liability of carriers for defects of equipment is thus expressed: “The preponderance of authority is in favor of the doctrine that a passenger is entitled to recover damages from a carrier for an injury resulting from a defect in an appliance purchased from a manufacturer, whenever it appears that the defect would have been discovered by the carrier if it had exercised the degree of care which under the circumstances was incumbent upon it, with regard to inspection and application of the necessary tests.
For the purposes of this doctrine, the manufacturer is considered as being in law the agent or servant of the carrier, as far as regards the work of constructing the appliance. According to this theory, the good repute of the manufacturer will not relieve the carrier from liability”
The rationale of the carrier’s liability is the fact that the passenger has neither choice nor control over the carrier in the selection and use of the equipment and appliances in use by the carrier. Having, no privity whatever with the manufacturer or vendor of the defective equipment, the passenger has no remedy against him, while the carrier usually has. It is but logical, therefore, that the carrier, while not an insurer of the safety of his passengers, should nevertheless be held to answer for the flaws of his equipment if such flaws were at all discoverable.
If the carrier has contracted with someone else the passenger does not usually know who that person is, and in no case has he any share in the selection. The liability of the manufacturer must depend on the terms of the contract between him and the carrier, of which the passenger has no knowledge, and over which he can have no control, while the carrier can introduce what stipulations and take what securities he may think proper.
For injury resulting to the carrier himself by the manufacturer’s want of care, the carrier has a remedy against the manufacturer; but the passenger has no remedy against the manufacturer for damage arising from a mere breach of contract with the carrier.
The carrier, in consideration of certain well-known and highly valuable rights granted to it by the public, undertakes certain duties toward the public, among them being to provide itself with suitable and safe cars and vehicles in which to carry the traveling public. There is no such duty on the manufacturer of the cars. There is no reciprocal legal relation between him and the public in this respect.
The manufacturer should be deemed the agent of the carrier as respects its duty to select the material out of which its cars and locomotive are built, as well as in inspecting each step of their construction.
In this case, however, the record is to the effect that the only test applied to the steering knuckle in question was a purely visual inspection every thirty days, to see if any cracks developed. It nowhere appears that either the manufacturer or the carrier at any time tested the steering knuckle to ascertain whether its strength was up to standard, or that it had no hidden flaws that would impair that strength. And yet the carrier must have been aware of the critical importance of the knuckle’s resistance; that its failure or breakage would result in loss of balance and steering control of the bus, with disastrous effects upon the passengers.
No argument is required to establish that a visual inspection could not directly determine whether the resistance of this critically important part was not impaired. Nor has it been shown that the weakening of the knuckle was impossible to detect by any known test; on the contrary, there is testimony that it could be detected.
The court is thus satisfied that the periodical visual inspection of the steering knuckle as practiced by the carrier’s agents did not measure up to the required legal standard of “utmost diligence of very cautious persons” — “as far as human care and foresight can provide”, and therefore that the knuckle’s failure cannot be considered a fortuitous event that exempts the carrier from responsibility.
*Case digest by Oscar Lim Abadies Jr, LLB-IV, Andres Bonifacio Law School, SY 2018-2019