Law Practice

Teachers’ Liability for the Quasi-Delicts of Students

This article will describe the evolution of the concept of the liability of teachers for quasi-delicts committed by their students. We start with the statutory bases for this liability, primarily paragraph 7 of Article 2180 of the Civil Code. We then discuss cases, from J. Bocobo’s assertion in a dissent in Dioquino v. Araneta (1944) that the enumeration of instances of presumed negligence in Article 1903 of the old Civil Code (equivalent to Article 2180 of the current Code) does not exclude cases of actual and proved negligence, to the Spouses Palisoc v. Brillantes, et al. case in 1971, which raised into a doctrine the idea that teachers are responsible for the acts of their students, not only minors but those emancipated as well. We will also discuss refinements to the Palisoc doctrine as enunciated in Amadora v. CA (1988), where the meaning of custody in Article 2180 was made clearer. Finally, we present some suggested changes to the law, so as to keep it in consonance with present-day realities.


Basis of the Liability

Quasi-delicts refer to the fault or negligence of a person which accompanies an act or omission causing damage to another, there being no pre-existing contractual relation between them (Article 2176, Civil Code). Quasi-delicts give rise to an obligation to pay for the damage done (that is, a liability), and this obligation is demandable not only for one’s own acts or omissions, but also for those of persons for whom one is responsible. Article 2180 of the Civil Code enumerates those who are subject to this vicarious liability, among them “teachers” and “heads of establishments of arts and trades” with respect to their “pupils and students” and “apprentices”. In order that one may not be made to satisfy this liability, one needs to prove that the diligence of a good father of a family was observed to prevent damage.

School heads and teachers are subject to this vicarious liability because they stand, to a certain extent, as to their pupils or students, in loco parentis or as substitute parents, as expressly provided under Article 218 of the Family Code.

According to J. Reyes’ separate opinion in Palisoc, the basis for this liability is the act of the student of placing himself under “the custodial supervision and disciplinary authority of the school authorities” by enrolling and attending a school.

Before Palisoc

As early as 1944, J. Bocobo dissented in Dioquino v. Araneta, G.R. No. L-48176, that the enumeration of instances of presumed negligence in Article 1903 of the then in operation Spanish Codigo Civil does not exclude cases of actual and proved negligence. Article 2180 of the current Civil Code is basically Article 1903 of the old one. For Justice Bocobo, the listing in Article 1903 [2180] “does not free from liability those persons who, though not included in the enumeration, are nevertheless in fact negligent and therefore come within the general principle.” One of the hypothetical cases that he discussed was the following:

Supposing a case of negligence of a son, who was not living with his father, would the latter be responsible for the former’s negligence? I believe that if the father and the son happened to be together at the time of the damage, and the father was negligent in not preventing the son’s negligent act, the father would be liable. My reasons is that although the father is not presumed to be negligent because his son is not living with him, yet because the father proved to be negligent, he is, in my opinion, responsible. (emphasis in the original)

If his thinking is followed, a non-teaching employee of the school who was with the students on their way to some school-organized activity would be held liable for any incident along the way.

In the 1957 case of Exconde v. Capuno, G.R. No. L-10134, the respondent Delfin Capuno was the father of the other respondent Dante Capuno, who was accused of double homicide through reckless imprudence for the deaths of two of his classmates. During a parade which was held “upon instruction of the city school’s supervisor,” Dante, with other students, boarded a jeep. When the jeep started to run, Dante took hold of the wheel. The jeep turned turtle and two of his classmates died. Sabina Exconde, the mother of Isidoro Caperina, one of the deceased, reserved her right to bring a separate civil action, and in line with the reservation, asked for damages later, after the conviction of Dante. She included the father in the suit, but the father set up the defense that he should not be held liable for the death of Isidoro Caperina because at the time of the accident, Dante was not under his control and supervision.

The Supreme Court found against the defendant. They held that the fifth paragraph of Article 1308 (equivalent to the seventh paragraph of Article 2180 of the current Code) does not include academic institutions and only applies to an institution of arts and trades. But J. Reyes dissented, asserting that there is no sound reason for limiting the article to teachers of arts and trades and not to academic ones. For him, there was no substantial distinction between vocational and academic teachers. According to him,

If, as conceded by all commentators, the basis of the presumption of negligence of Article 1903 in some culpa in vigilando that the parents, teachers, etc. are supposed to have incurred in the exercise of their authority, it would seem clear that where the parent places the child under the effective authority of the teacher, the latter, and not the parent, should be the one answerable for the torts committed while under his custody, for the very reason that the parent is not supposed to interfere with the discipline of the school nor with the authority and supervision of the teacher while the child is under instruction. And if there is no authority, there can be no responsibility.

This dissent by J. Reyes in Exconde formed the basis for the inclusion of academic institutions in the coverage of Article 2180 later in the case of Amadora v. CA.

The Supreme Court reiterated the Exconde ruling regarding the application of the seventh paragraph of Article 2180 in the case of Mercado v. CA, G.R. No. L-14342, May 30, 1960. In this case, the son of the petitioner Ciriaco Mercado inflicted physical injuries on a classmate. Ciriaco Mercado was ordered to pay damages. He claimed that the teacher or the school head should be held responsible instead of him since the incident occurred in school during recess time, through no fault of his. The Supreme Court rejected his contention, basing mainly on their decision in Exconde: the provision applies only to institution of arts and trades and not to any academic educational institution. Since Mercado’s child was enrolled in a Catholic school, an academic educational institution, the provision does not apply to him, and therefore Mercado (the father) had to pay.

In a kind of obiter (it was not really essential to the issue, and just caused confusion to the judge in the lower court in the later case of Spouses Palisoc v. Brillantes, et al., below), the Supreme Court interpreted the clause “so long as they remain in their custody” in Article 2180 to mean a situation where the pupil lives and boards with the teacher, such that the control, direction and influence on the pupil supersede those of the parents. According to them, in situations like this, “the control or influence over the conduct and actions of the pupil would pass from the father and mother to the teacher; and so would the responsibility for the torts of the pupil.” But Mercado’s son went to school during school hours and went home after school is over, so he did not remain in the custody of his teachers or the school. The liability for the quasi-delicts of the son should still be with the parents.

It is our firm belief that the Mercado ruling is the correct interpretation of par. 7 of Article 2180. After Mercado, it seems that the Supreme Court extended the coverage of the seventh paragraph of Article 2180 too much that it is already unrealistic and too burdensome for teachers.

The Palisoc Case

In the case of Spouses Palisoc v. Brillantes, et al., G.R. No. L-29025, October 4, 1971, Dominador Palisoc, deceased son of petitioners spouses Palisoc, and the defendant Virgilio Daffon (who was not a minor) were classmates at the Manila Technical Institute. There was a fight during recess time, and Daffon caused the death of Dominador Palisoc. The trial court found Daffon responsible for Dominador’s death, and sentenced him to pay damages. However, the owner (Antonio Brillantes) and the president (Teodosio Valenton) of Manila Technical Institute and the teacher in charge of the students at that time (Santiago Quibulue) were absolved. The spouses appealed.

Unlike in Exconde and Mercado, in which the liability of the school was treated only tangentially, in Palisoc the action was instituted directly against the school officials, and the Supreme Court had the occasion to decide directly on the question of the liability of teachers and heads of schools under Article 2180, Civil Code, for damages caused by their pupils and students against fellow students on the school premises. The Supreme Court held that defendants Valenton and Quibulue were liable. According to the High Tribunal, the death resulting from the fight of the students could have been avoided if the president of the school (Valenton) and the teacher-in-charge (Quibulue) had “complied with their duty of providing adequate supervision over the activities of the students in the school premises to protect their students from harm, whether at the hands of fellow students or other parties.” But this seems too much to ask from the school administrators and teachers. J. Makalintal put up his vigorous dissent, which we find more reasonable than that of the majority opinion:

I think it is highly unrealistic and conducive to unjust results, considering the size of the enrollment in many of our educational institutions, academic and non-academic, as well as the temper, attitudes and often destructive activism of the students, to hold their teachers and/or the administrative heads of the schools directly liable for torts committed by them.

The construction of the phrase “so long as (the students) remain in their custody” as enunciated in Exconde and Mercado were set aside. Where previously it was understood to mean that the student actually boarded in the school, now it was understood to mean “the protective and supervisory custody that the school and its heads and teachers exercise over the pupils and students for as long as they are at attendance in the school, including recess time.” In other words it is not necessary that the student actually boarded in the school; as long as they are at attendance in school, the school authorities will be liable.

The school head and the teacher-in-charge were found liable, even if Daffon was already of age at the time of the commission of the offense. J. Reyes, in his concurring opinion, explained that the reason for this is that in the article, where the responsibility prescribed there is limited to illegal acts during minority, it expressly so provides, as in the case of the parents and of the guardians. But there is no similar express restriction for “teachers or heads of establishments of arts and trades”. Therefore there was intent “that the liability be not restricted to the case of persons under age.” Furthermore, “teachers and heads of scholarly establishments are not grouped with parents and guardians but ranged with owners and managers of enterprises, employers and the state, as to whom no reason is discernible to imply that they should answer only for minors.” For J. Reyes, the responsibility of the teachers and school heads are more plenary than that of the parents:

I submit, finally, that while in the case of parents and guardians, their authority and supervision over the children and wards end by law upon the latter reaching majority age, the authority and custodial supervision over pupils exist regardless of the age of the latter. A student over twenty-one, by enrolling and attending a school, places himself under the custodial supervision and disciplinary authority of the school authorities, which is the basis of the latter’s correlative responsibility for his torts, committed while under such authority. Of course, the teachers’ control is not as plenary as when the student is a minor; but that circumstance can only affect the decree of the responsibility but cannot negate the existence thereof. It is only a factor to be appreciated in determining whether or not the defendant has exercised due diligence in endeavoring to prevent the injury, as prescribed in the last paragraph of Article 2180.

The effect is to make a substitute parent liable where the real parent will not be. J. Makalintal, in his dissent, emphatically pointed out the lack of justification of this rule “either in the law itself or in justice and equity.”

The Amadora case, G.R. No. L-47745, decided April 15, 1988, clarified that the Palisoc doctrine applies to all schools, whether academic or non-academic. The case involved Alfredo Amadora, who was shot inside the school auditorium by a classmate (respondent Pablito Daffon). Amadora died. The school (Colegio de San Jose-Recoletos), the high school principal, the dean of boys, and the physics teacher (to whom Amadora was to submit something, for which reason he went to school) were impleaded as defendants.

Unlike in Exconde and Mercado, in Amadora the Colegio de San Jose-Recoletos was directly impleaded and sought to be held liable under Article 2180. Unlike in Palisoc, Colegio de San Jose-Recoletos was not a school of arts and trades but an academic institution of learning. The Amadora case settled the question of whether or not Article 2180 covers academic schools as well (the answer was in the affirmative), and if so, when the offending student is supposed to be “in its custody.”

Using the statutory canon of reddendo singula singulis, the Supreme Court held that in Article 2180, “teachers” should apply to the words “pupils and students” and “heads of establishments of arts and trades” to the word “apprentices.” The High Tribunal did not see any substantial distinction between an academic school and a non-academic school with respect to torts committed by their students. For them, the same vigilance of the teacher with respect to the safety of his students should be expected, whether it the school is academic or technical.

The Supreme Court also explained why in academic school, the liability attaches to the teacher, while in a non-academic (technical) school, the liability attaches to the head:

The reason for the disparity can be traced to the fact that historically the head of the school of arts and trades exercised a closer tutelage over his pupils than the head of the academic school. The old schools of arts and trades were engaged in the training of artisans apprenticed to their master who personally and directly instructed them on the technique and secrets of their craft. The head of the school of arts and trades was such a master and so was personally involved in the task of teaching his students, who usually even boarded with him and so came under his constant control, supervision and influence. By contrast, the head of the academic school was not as involved with his students and exercised only administrative duties over the teachers who were the persons directly dealing with the students. The head of the academic school had then (as now) only a vicarious relationship with the students. Consequently, while he could not be directly faulted for the acts of the students, the head of the school of arts and trades, because of his closer ties with them, could be so blamed. (emphasis in the original)

The Court conceded however that the distinction “no longer obtains at present” because of the expansion of technological schools, the increase in their enrolment, and the decrease of the direct and personal contact of vocational school heads with their students. J. Guttierrez, in her concurring opinion, pointed out that

we no longer have masters and apprentices toiling in schools of arts and trades. Students in “technological” colleges and universities are no different from students in liberal arts or professional schools. Apprentices now work in regular shops and factories and their relationship to the employer is covered by laws governing the employment relationship and not by laws governing the teacher—student relationship.

Nevertheless, Article 2180 is still there, and, “[i] n its present state, the provision must be interpreted by the Court according to its clear and original mandate until the legislature, taking into account the charges in the situation subject to be regulated, sees fit to enact the necessary amendment.”

The Supreme Court also refined the definition of “custody” as used in Article 2180. It was held not to mean the student must be boarding with the school authorities, but it does signify that the student should be within the control and under the influence of the school authorities at the time of the occurrence of the injury, whether the semester or school term has not yet begun or has already ended. As long as the student is still subject to the disciplinary authority of the school and cannot consider himself released altogether from observance of its rules, he is in the custody of the school. Also,

as long as the student is in the school premises in pursuance of a legitimate student objective, in the exercise of a legitimate student right, and even in the enjoyment of a legitimate student privilege [like doing nothing but relaxing in the campus in the company of his classmates] the responsibility of the school authorities over the student continues. (Amadora v. CA)

Just a few months later, in Ylarde and Doronio v. Aquino, et al., G.R. No. L-33722, July 29, 1988, the Supreme Court reiterated the rule in Amadora. Respondents Edgardo Aquino and Mariano Soriano were teacher and principal, respectively, of a public school. Aquino ordered his students to dig beside a one-ton concrete block in order to make a hole wherein the stone can be buried. He left four students near the hole to get something. A few minutes after he left, three of the kids jumped into the hole, and the fourth one jumped on top of the concrete block causing it to slide down. One of the boys died. Aquino was held liable not under paragraph 7 of Article 2180, but under Article 2176. However, Soriano, the principal was absolved since the school was not a school of arts and trades.

Newer but cases more tangential to the issue is St. Francis High School v. CA, G.R. No. 82465, February 25, 1991, and School of the Holy Spirit v. Taguiam, G.R. No. 165565, July 14, 2008. In St. Francis, a swimming activity organized by the teachers of a school, in which the principal was invited but declined, was not considered a school activity. The school was not made liable. Mere knowledge by the principal of the picnic was held not to imply that the school consent to the holding of the same. In Holy Spirit, the teacher was held grossly negligent for allowing a student to join the swimming without a permit. The student drowned. Although negligence was not habitual, Taguiam was considered to be covered by Article 282 of the Labor Code (dismissal due to gross and habitual negligence) “[i]n view of the considerable resultant damage.”

The Need to Amend the Law

Article 2180 of the New Civil Code states that “[t]he obligation imposed by Article 2176 [of the New Civil Code] is demandable not only for one’s own acts or omissions, but also for those of persons for whom one is responsible.” Its seventh paragraph is the source of the liability of teachers for the quasi-delicts of his/her students:

Lastly, teachers or heads of establishments of arts and trades shall be liable for damages caused by their pupils and students or apprentices, so long as they remain in their custody.

In this article we attempted to show the evolution of the concept of this liability through the gradual expansion of its scope as enunciated in the different cases decided by the Supreme Court. In Mercado the Supreme Court held that the liability for the quasi-delict committed by a student is with his parents, interpreting the phrase “so long as they remain in their custody” to mean that the pupil should live and board with the teacher in order for the teacher to be liable. But this was overturned in Palisoc, and now it is enough that the student is at school; the school authorities would be liable. In fact, according to Palisoc, the school authorities will be liable even if the student is already 18 years or older, although in this instance the parents will not have any responsibility. That is, the teacher, who is just a substitute parent, is liable where the real parent will not be. It was no surprise that Justice Makalintal dissented, emphatically pointing out the lack of justification for this rule either in law or in equity.

In another aspect, there was a widening of the coverage of the liability as to school type. Justice Reyes dissented in Exconde, asserting that academic teachers should be included in the scope of liability. In Amadora, the Supreme Court clarified that paragraph 7 applies to all schools, academic or technical.

It is clear that there is a need to amend the law.

As early as Palisoc, J. Makalintal lamented: “Article 2180, if applied as appellants construe it, would be bad law. It would demand responsibility without commensurate authority, rendering teachers and school heads open to damage suits for causes beyond their power to control.” He wanted to return to the interpretation in Mercado, but unfortunately, the Court had already moved forward. Palisoc came, and was further refined in Amadora. Nevertheless, in Amadora there was already recognition of the need to amend Article 2180. In their explanation for the different treatments of academic and technological schools, the Supreme Court said:

It is conceded that the distinction no longer obtains at present in view of the expansion of the schools of arts and trades, the consequent increase in their enrollment, and the corresponding diminution of the direct and personal contract of their heads with the students. Article 2180, however, remains unchanged. In its present state, the provision must be interpreted by the Court according to its clear and original mandate until the legislature, taking into account the charges in the situation subject to be regulated, sees fit to enact the necessary amendment.

J. Guttierez was more emphatic in his concurring opinion in the same case:

xxx I would like to stress the need for a major amendment to, if not a complete scrapping of, Article 2180 of the Civil Code insofar as it refers to teachers or heads of establishments of arts and trades in relation to pupils and students or apprentices. The seventh paragraph of Art. 2180 is a relic of the past and contemplates a situation long gone and out of date. In a Palisoc v. Brillantes (41 SCRA 548) situation, it is bound to result in mischief and injustice. xxx The provision of Art. 2180 of the Civil Code involved in this case has outlived its purpose. The Court cannot make law. It can only apply the law with its imperfections. However, the Court can suggest that such a law should be amended or repealed.

However, in a legislative milieu where even priority measures are not addressed on time, there is little chance that Congressmen and Senators would consider the amendment or repeal of the seventh paragraph of Article 2180, since it involves only a small segment of the population. Nevertheless, informing teachers about its application is a good first step.

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