Civil Law

M.H. Rakes vs The Atlantic Gulf and Pacific Company

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G.R. No. 1719 – 7 Phil. 359 – Civil Law – Torts and Damages – Kinds of Fault – Contributory Negligence

Labor Law – Social Legislation – Liability of Employers – Workplace Accident

M.H. Rakes was working as a laborer for Atlantic Gulf in the early 1900s. One day, they were working in the company’s yard and they were transporting heavy rails using two cars (karitons?); each car carrying the opposite ends of the rails. The cars were pulled by rope from the front and other workers are pushing the cars from behind. There were no side guards installed on the sides of the cars but the rails were secured by ropes. The track where the cars move was weakened by a previous typhoon. It was alleged that Atlantic’s foreman was notified of said damage in the tracks but the same were left unrepaired. While the cars were being moved and when it reached the depressed portion of the track, and while Rakes was beside one of the cars, the ropes gave in and the rails slipped thereby crushing his leg and causing it to be amputated. Rakes sued Atlantic Gulf and he won; he was awarded 5,000 pesos for damages ($2,500).

Atlantic assailed the decision of the lower court alleging that they specifically ordered their workers to be walking only before or after the cars and not on the side of the cars because the cars have no side guards to protect them in case the rails would slip. Atlantic also alleged that Rakes should be suing the foreman as it was him who neglected to have the tracks repaired; that Rakes himself was negligent for having known of the depression on the track yet he continued to work.

ISSUE: Whether or not Atlantic is civilly liable.

HELD: Yes. Rakes as per the evidence could not have  known of the damage in the track as it was another employee who swore he notified the foreman about said damage. Further, his lack of caution in continuing to work is not of a gross nature as to constitute negligence on his part. On the other hand though, Rakes contributory negligence can be inferred from the fact that he was on the side of the cars when in fact there were orders from the company barring workers from standing near the side of the cars. His disobedience to this order does not bar his recovery of damages though; the Supreme Court instead reduced the award of damages from 5,000 pesos to 2,500 pesos.

In this case, the SC also elucidated the two kinds of culpa which are:

  1. Culpa as substantive and independent, which on account of its origin arises in an obligation between two persons not formerly bound by any other obligation; may be also considered as a real source of an independent obligation (extra-contractual or culpa aquiliana).
  2. Culpa as an incident in the performance of an obligation which cannot be presumed to exist without the other, and which increases the liability arising from the already existing obligation (contractual or culpa contractual).

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NOTE: As derived from Roman Law, there are three kinds of negligence:

  1. Culpa Criminal
  2. Culpa Contractual
  3. Culpa Aquiliana
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