G.R. No. L-23733, 31 October 1969, 30 SCRA 69
Nocum, plaintiff, was a passenger of the defendant’s Bus No. 120, then making a trip within the barrio of Dita, Municipality of Bay, Laguna, who got injured as a consequence of the explosion of firecrackers, contained in a box, loaded in said bus and declared to its conductor as containing clothes and miscellaneous items by a co-passenger.
Plaintiff sued Laguna Tayabas for Breach of Contract of Carriage.
The Trial Court held Laguna Tayabas Bus Company liable since it did not observe the extraordinary or utmost diligence of a very cautious person as required by the Civil Code. It further states that the defense of fortuitous event is unavailing.
The Trial Court’s decision is based on the witness, Severino Andaya, who states that a man with box went up the baggage compartment of the bus and the box was place under the seat. They left Azcarraga at about 11:30 in the morning and when the explosion occurred, the plaintiff was thrown out. There were 37 other passengers who got injured.
The bus conductor said that such box belongs to a passenger whom he didn’t know and states that it contained miscellaneous items and clothes. From its appearance there was no indication that the contents of the box were explosives and firecrackers.
The dispatcher said that they were not authorized to open the baggage of passengers because the instruction from the management is to call the police if there were packages containing articles which were against regulations.
Whether or not Laguna Tayabas Bus Company is liable for breach of contract of carriage?
Laguna Tayabas Bus Company is not liable for damages. In overland transportation, the common carrier is not bound nor empowered to make an examination on the contents of packages or bags, particularly those hand carried by passengers.
No doubt, the views of the trial court do seem to be in line with the reasons that the Code Commission had for incorporating the above-quoted provisions in its draft of the Civil Code. Indeed, in approving the said draft, Congress must have concurred with the Commission that by requiring the highest degree of diligence from common carriers in the safe transport of their passengers and by creating a presumption of negligence against them.
It is undisputed that before the box containing the firecrackers were allowed to be loaded in the bus by the conductor, inquiry was made with the passenger carrying the same as to what was in it and according to the trial court “if proper and rigid inspection were observed by the defendant, the contents of the box could have been discovered and the accident avoided. Refusal by the passenger to have the package opened was no excuse because, as stated by Dispatcher Cornista, employees should call the police if there were packages containing articles against company regulations.”
However, the Supreme Court considered the opinion that the law does not require as much. Article 1733 is not as unbending as the trial court has held, for it reasonably qualifies the extraordinary diligence required of common carriers for the safety of the passengers transported by them to be “according to all the circumstances of each case.” In fact, Article 1755 repeats this same qualification: “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.”
Fairness demands that in measuring a common carrier’s duty towards its passengers, allowance must be given to the reliance that should be reposed on the sense of responsibility of all the passengers in regard to their common safety. It is to be presumed that a passenger will not take with him anything dangerous to the lives and limbs of his co-passengers, not to speak of his own. Not to be lightly considered must be the right to privacy to which each passenger is entitled. He cannot be subjected to any unusual search, when he protests the innocuousness of his baggage and nothing appears to indicate the contrary, as in the case at bar. In other words, inquiry may be verbally made as to the nature of a passenger’s baggage when such is not outwardly perceptible, but beyond this, constitutional boundaries are already in danger of being transgressed.
Calling a policeman to his aid, as suggested by the service manual invoked by the trial judge, in compelling the passenger to submit to more rigid inspection, after the passenger had already declared that the box contained mere clothes and other miscellaneous, could not have justified invasion of a constitutionally protected domain.
What must be importantly considered here is not so much the infringement of the fundamental sacred rights of the particular passenger herein involved, but the constant threat any contrary ruling would pose on the right of privacy of all passengers of all common carriers, considering how easily the duty to inspect can be made an excuse for mischief and abuse.
*Case digest by Karen S. Tindugan, LLB-4, Andres Bonifacio Law School, SY 2018-2019