In accidents involving pedestrians and cars, is the driver automatically liable?

It’s time to clear the issue
by Joey Bernardez | Mar 10, 2020
PHOTO: Leandre Grecia

We’ve all heard somebody say it. Maybe it was the person who taught you how to drive. Maybe it was a friend; and this is what they probably said: “If you’re driving a vehicle and you hit a pedestrian, you are automatically liable. It’s your fault.” Just by the very fact that you’re driving a vehicle and the other guy isn’t.

But everyone knows that pedestrians are well within their aptitude to do stupid things on the street. Drivers don’t have an exclusive monopoly on carelessness. In our overcrowded metropolis, pedestrians can be jaywalking on a highway even when there’s a pedestrian bridge nearby. They can be carelessly and obliviously texting or surfing the web while walking on the street. Thus, it is entirely possible that in an accident between a car and a pedestrian, the fault can be fully attributable to the pedestrian. Yet, some people say that circumstances notwithstanding, if one hits a pedestrian, there is a legal presumption that it’s the vehicle driver’s fault.

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Is this true?

Some people believe it. As a matter of fact, a bill has been filed in Congress to clarify the liabilities under such circumstances.

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But what really is the proper interpretation of the law on the subject matter? What are the pertinent laws on the matter? Is there a legal presumption that places liability solely on the driver of the vehicle in collisions involving vehicles and pedestrians? If so, under what law is this presumption found? If it’s a law, it must have been passed by Congress and it must be in the books.

The truth is there is no such law and there is no such presumption.

What the police follow is a standard operating procedure in cases where there are injuries arising from traffic incidents. When there’s an injured party in a traffic incident, the police as a matter of procedure take the uninjured driver of the vehicle and detain him. This is merely standard operating procedure of the police and it is not based on law. The objective of this standardized procedure is to be sure that just in case the driver of the vehicle is at fault, he does not get away.

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The police must however observe the limits of detention prescribed in Art. 125 of the Revised Penal Code which cannot exceed 36 hours. Within that period, they will just wait for any formal complaint that may be filed by the injured party. If none, they must let the driver go. Otherwise, the police officers can be held liable under Art. 125 of the RPC.

There are only 2 instances in which Philippine law provides that a vehicle driver is presumed negligent and hence liable:

  1. In Article 2184 of the New Civil Code, it is provided that: “It is disputably presumed that a driver was negligent, if he had been found guilty of reckless driving or of violating traffic regulations at least within the next preceding two months.”
  2. In Article 2185 of the New Civil Code, it is provided that: “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.”
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Take note that the presumptions of negligence in the aforementioned provisions of law are disputable. Meaning, the subject driver can present evidence contradicting the presumption of negligence. If the evidence is found to be substantive, the presumption of negligence provided by law can be overturned.

So what does all this mean? This means that contrary to what some people say that when you’re driving a vehicle and you hit a pedestrian: the driver is automatically at fault—that is just not true. And whenever you hear it, please try to correct that person. We’ve all heard enough of that nonsense.

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PHOTO: Leandre Grecia
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