Common Carriers are persons (including corporations or firms) that carry people or goods, or both, by land, water, or air. The services are offered to the public for a fee. In other words, these are the vehicles you take and pay for commute- taxis, jeepneys, shuttles, ride-sharing vehicles, buses, tricycles, pedicabs, planes, habal-habal, ships, and similar forms of transport. Unfortunately, the responsibilities of common carriers are not so commonly known (pun intended).
For purposes of this article, references to common carriers should be considered as referring to land-based transport (this is an automobile publication after all).
In performing their jobs, common carriers are required to exercise "extraordinary diligence"- which means that they are to treat the goods and lives entrusted to them as if they were their own. A look at how many common carriers operate unfortunately shows otherwise- unless of course the drivers are really daredevils that live on the edge, erroneously extending the same treatment to their customers. To put things into perspective, banks are also required to observe extraordinary diligence, for which reason their industry is heavily regulated.
The expectation is that a common carrier will give utmost and extreme care for the goods and lives transported, in the same way that he will take care of his own life and property. Just as the driver wants to get home to his family after work, he should operate the vehicle under the same pretext- the passengers must be able to get to their destinations safely, in one piece, and without the anxiety brought about by a roller-coaster like commute. In caring for lives, the common carrier is expected to use utmost precaution and give regard for all circumstances.
When there is an accident that results to death or injury, the law gives rise to a presumption that the common carrier is at fault or acted with neglect. According to the Supreme Court, the obvious intention of the law is to prevent the reckless operation of common carriers. Whether the law has succeeded in this regard is an entirely different story.
In the event of death, a common carrier is liable for three things – payment for death, indemnity for loss of earning capacity, and moral damages. In a number of cases, the Supreme Court has upheld the amount of Php50,000.00 as indemnity or payment for death.
Meanwhile, loss of earning capacity is determined with a little math through the following formula: "Net Earning Capacity = life expectancy x (gross annual income - reasonable and necessary living expenses)".
Life expectancy is in turn determined through this formula: "Life Expectancy = 2/3 x (80 – age at the time of death)". I’m not very good at math so I’ll just use an example from an actual case.
In an accident where the victim was 36 years old, the life expectancy obtained following the table above was 29.33. That person was earning Php 450,844.29 per year, from which half was deducted as reasonable and necessary expenses. Using the formula to determine net earning capacity, the total indemnity compensation was Php 6,611,634.59.
Finally, the mental anguish brought by death through a common carrier results to moral damages. This is determined based on factors present in different situations, albeit the Supreme Court has, for example, given an award of Php100,000.00 to the spouse and three kids of a deceased. Although the complainants can ask for an amount they deem fit for what they suffered, this shall ultimately be up to the court.
If the person is injured and lives to tell his or her story, he or she is also compensable for unearned income less reasonable expenses, as well as moral damages due to the suffering experienced. These amounts will normally be lower as opposed to a case where death is involved.
Since the liability of the common carrier is merely presumed, it can exculpate itself by stating that it exercised extraordinary diligence under the circumstances, or that the death or injury was caused by a fortuitous event. For example, a bus that falls after the road suddenly opens up during an earthquake can hardly be considered as negligent. Yet, a common carrier that ventured into rough weather, despite multiple warnings against doing so, cannot hide behind the claim that a fortuitous event caused the accident.
A common carrier is liable even if it shows that in selecting and supervising its employees (such as the drivers), it exercised the diligence of a good father of a family (a lower form of diligence), precisely because the standard of diligence required is extraordinary.
How common carriers are operated in our streets do not normally reflect the very high standards required by the law from them. Dropping off passengers in all sorts of places, racing against each other, destroying speed records, and operating machines older than your teenage sibling and without being properly maintained hardly show diligence per se, much less the extraordinary care that the law imposes. Next time you encounter a common carrier that seemingly disregards the law, it will do well for your safety to (gently) remind the driver of the beholden duty he has, which is to preserve your life as if it was his own.