Thursday, July 1, 2010

City of Manila v. Meralco

Facts:

On June 8, 1925, there occurred a collision between a car owned by Meralco and driven by Sixto Eustaquio, and a truck belonging to the City of Manila. Eustaquio was prosecuted and found guilty of damage to property and slight injuries through reckless imprudence. He was sentenced to pay P1788.27 plus fine of P900 and costs, with subsidiary imprisonment. Not being able to collect from the convict, the City of Manila proceeded against Meralco for subsidiary liability. Meralco set up the defense of a good father of a family. The trial judge thought it unnecessary to present the witnesses offered by the fiscal, and took cognisance of the records of the criminal case.

Issues:

(1) Whether the trial court may rely on the records of the criminal case to render judgment on the civil case

(2) Whether Meralco should be absolved from the liability

Held:

(1) The first error plainly has merit. As a general rule, a record in a criminal action cannot be admitted in evidence in a civil action except by way of inducement or to show a collateral fact. The very obvious reason is that the parties and the issues in a criminal action and a civil action are not the same. It is rudimentary that due process must be followed in the trial of all causes. No man or entity may be condemmed without a day in court. Manila Electric Company was not a party at the trial of the criminal case. By a coincidence, Attorney Carrascoso was both counsel for the defendant in the civil action. But there is lacking any proof showing that the Manila Electric Company supplied the lawyer for the accused in the criminal action and so is concluded by the judgment there rendered. It is our ruling that prejudicial error was committed in the admission by the trial court of Exhibits A to F, but that since the plaintiff made the proper offer to present its witnesses, the case should be remanded for a new trial.

(2) The Penal Code authorizes the imposition of subsidiary liability in default of the persons criminally liable. Article 20 of the Penal Code provides that this subsidiary liability shall "apply to masters, teachers, persons, and corporations engaged in any kind of industry for felonies and misdemeanors committed by their servants, pupils, workmen, apprentices, or employees in the discharge of their duties." It is under this provision that the City of Manila is attempting to collect damages from the Manila Electric Company. In connection with the Penal Code, there must be taken into view certain provisions of the Civil Code. It is provided in article 1903 that the obligation imposed for the damage to another caused by fault or negligence is enforcible against those persons for whom another is responsible. But it is added that "The liability imposed by this article shall cease in case the persons subject thereto prove that they exercised all the diligence of a good father of a family to prevent the damage." Art. 1902 provides "Civil obligations arising from crimes or misdemeanors shall be governed by the provisions of the Penal Code."

Manresa, speaking of article 1092 of the Civil Code, offers the following comment:

The Civil Code refers to the Penal Code as the rule applicable in the first place, since the latter determines and punishes the acts giving rise to said obligations, or creates said obligations, thereby determining their existence and is, therefore, for that reason of preferential application. But, then, as the Penal Code is concerned with, and is interested only in determining how the civil obligation it creates comes into existence and develops under the influence of the illicit character, it lays down only those rules inspired by those motives; and once the connection of that obligation with the criminal liability is established in its provisions, with the consequences that may be inferred from the fact that the former is based on the latter; and after an effort has been made, within the sphere of that civil responsibility, toward making the indemnification coextensive with the effects of the crime, and a special necessity, which is characteristic of punishment and is the subject matter of the Penal Code, has been shown in the provisions regulating said liability, the Penal Code, could not, without going beyond its one sphere, give all the rules relative to said obligations, nor did it have any necessity for doing so, because once the peculiar nature of said obligations is saved by its provisions, the essence thereof common to the other obligations must, as in the latter, be defined by the civil law, which will thus become an important source, although suppletory, of those derived from crime.

While the Civil Code, in its article 1092, simply makes reference to the Penal Code, yet, it is beyond doubt that by this reference it means those rules of a general nature which regulate the civil liability arising from the particular crimes or misdemeanors therein mentioned, and that, in connection therewith, they shall have the preferential application which this article recognizes in favor of the Penal Code.

With this preliminary point out of the way, there is no escaping the conclusion that the provisions of the Penal Code govern. The Penal Code in easily understandable language authorizes the determination of subsidiary liability. The Civil Code negatives its application by providing that civil obligations arising from crimes or misdemeanors shall be governed by the provisions of the Penal Code. The conviction of the motorman was a misdemeanor falling under article 604 of the Penal Code. The act of the motorman was not a wrongful or negligent act or ommision not punishable by law. Accordingly, the civil obligation connected up with Penal Code and not with article 1903 of the Civil Code. In other words, the Penal Code affirms its jurisdiction while the Civil Code negatives its jurisdiction. This is a case of criminal negligence out of which civil liability arises and not a case of civil negligence. Indeed, as pointed out by the trial judge, any different ruling would premit the master to escape scot-free by allging and proving that the master had exercised all diligence in the selection and training of its servants to prevent the damage. That would be good defense to a strictly civil action, but might or might not be to a civil action or misdemeanor.

In accordance with the foregoing, the judgment appealed from will be set aside, and the record remanded to the lower court for a new trial.

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