Whose Fault is it Anyway?

The internet is replete with reports of vehicular accidents. Unfortunately, not a few of these reports involve people losing their lives. Interestingly, a lot of people are reacting on reports where the driver who’s seemingly innocent – be it because the car he’s driving is parked on the side of the road or where the other driver is intoxicated, among others – are arrested and held by the police. A lot of people cry about injustice. Brings us to the question, whose fault is it anyway?

The answer to that question is very complicated.

First, let us be clear, the driver may not necessarily be under arrest. Section 1, Rule 113 of the Rules of Court defines arrest as “the taking of a person into custody in order that he may be bound to answer for a commission of an offense.” The Rules of Court likewise provides for instances when a person may be arrested. One may be arrested either by the authority of a Warrant of Arrest issued by a trial court judge or any of the instances provided in Sec. 5, Rule 113 where warrantless arrests may be done, thus:

Section 5. Arrest without warrant; when lawful. — A peace officer or a private person may, without a warrant, arrest a person:

  1. When, in his presence, the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense;
  2. When an offense has just been committed, and he has probable cause to believe based on personal knowledge of facts or circumstances that the person to be arrested has committed it; and
  3. When the person to be arrested is a prisoner who has escaped from a penal establishment or place where he is serving final judgment or is temporarily confined while his case is pending, or has escaped while being transferred from one confinement to another.

The police have the added obligation of delivering the person arrested without a warrant to the nearest police station or jail and such person shall be subjected to inquest proceedings. (Sec. 5, Rule 113 in relation to Sec. 7 Rule 112).

Unless the traffic incident resulting to damage to property, injury, or even death, happened in the presence of the arresting person or that the arresting person has personal knowledge of the facts that the person to be arrested has committed a crime, then the driver is not technically under arrest.

So, if the driver is not under arrest, then what is he doing under the custody of the police?

Well, after a traffic incident, most especially one resulting to death, the police has a legal duty to investigate the same. During which time, the driver of the vehicle, even when s/he is seemingly innocent, may be invited by the police for questioning. This is included in the definition of custodial investigation under Republic Act. No. 7438. Note that at this time the driver is not under arrest. There is no offense or crime s/he is being held for. The driver is merely waiting while the report is prepared by the police. This means, that the driver is there to give his/her statement and to confirm his/her testimony as written down in the report. It may also be characterized as “waiting time”  as it may involve the investigation of a possible traffic violation for which a traffic violation ticket will be issued. As held by the Supreme Court in the case of Rodel Luz y Ong vs. People of the Philippines (G.R. No. 197788, 29 February 2012), “Prior to the issuance of the ticket, the period during which petitioner was at the police station may be characterized merely as waiting time”.

In relation to the traffic violation, there are certain disputable presumptions created under the law and jurisprudence that could be the basis for holding a driver liable in case of a traffic accident. These disputable presumptions are:

  • Article 1756, New Civil Code – In case of death or injuries of passengers, common carriers are presumed to have been at fault or acted negligently, unless they prove that they observed extraordinary diligence prescribed in Articles 1733 and 1755.
  • Article 2184, New Civil Code – It is disputably presumed that a driver is negligent if he had been found guilty of reckless driving or of violating traffic regulations at least twice within the next preceding two months.
  • Article 2185, New Civil Code – Unless there is proof to the contrary, it is presumed that a person driving a motor vehicle has been negligent if, at the time of the mishap, he was violating any traffic regulation.
  • Emergency Rule (Gan vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. L-44264, 19 September 1988.) – [O]ne who suddenly finds himself in a place of danger, and is required to act without time to consider the best means that may be adopted to avoid the impending danger, is not guilty of negligence if he fails to adopt what subsequently and upon reflection may appear to have been a better method unless the emergency in which he finds himself is brought about by his own negligence.
  • Doctrine of res ipsa loquitur (Jarcia, Jr. vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 187926, 15 February 2015.) – The doctrine of res ipsa loquituris simply a recognition of the postulate that, as a matter of common knowledge and experience, the very nature of certain types of occurrences may justify an inference of negligence on the part of the person who controls the instrumentality causing the injury in the absence of some explanation by the accused-appellant who is charged with negligence. It is grounded in the superior logic of ordinary human experience and, on the basis of such experience or common knowledge, negligence may be deduced from the mere occurrence of the accident itself.
  • Raynara vs. Hiceta, G.R. No. 120027, 21 April 1999. – [D]rivers of vehicles "who bump the rear of another vehicle" are presumed to be "the cause of the accident, unless contradicted by other evidence". 29 The rationale behind the presumption is that the driver of the rear vehicle has full control of the situation as he is in a position to observe the vehicle in front of him
  • Doctrine of Last Clear Chance (Philippine National Railways Corporation, et. al. vs. Vizcara, et. al., G.R. No. 190022, 15 February 2012.) – The doctrine of last clear chance provides that where both parties are negligent but the negligent act of one is appreciably later in point of time than that of the other, or where it is impossible to determine whose fault or negligence brought about the occurrence of the incident, the one who had the last clear opportunity to avoid the impending harm but failed to do so, is chargeable with the consequences arising therefrom.

Note, however, that the presumptions listed above are merely disputable. They may be overcome by evidence to the contrary. That means that evidence must be presented in the proper forum, that is, during a trial. Absent that contrary evidence the disputable presumption becomes conclusive and can be a basis for liability.

Back to the seemingly innocent driver. Unless the bills currently pending in Congress are passed and become laws providing for presumptions with regard to the negligence of the victims and rationalizes and makes the liability of drivers fair under the circumstances, all those seemingly innocent drivers would still spend some nights in police custody.