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Teacher Liability

Everyone is related to a child. Some may be very young and some old enough to go to school. Although
proximity of the school to the home is most often the reason for choosing a school for a child, there are
various other reasons used like the family ancestors’ preference over a particular school, or because of
the school’s good academic record. There are also quite a few parents who select a school based on its
focus on the spiritual aspect, and those that prefer schools that are open to broken-home families.

And then we have those parents who decide based on how a particular teacher behaves with children.
When asked why this is important, they say that a teacher who is attentive to the needs of a child will
more effectively substitute the mom or the dad while the child is in school, and this will help avoid any
mishaps that the child may encounter while in school. When asked if they believe the teachers are
responsible and even liable for whatever happens to the child, they usually say that the teachers should
be held liable. They feel it is but fair and just for a teacher and even for the owner of the school, especially
nursery schools, to be held responsible for their child.

Principles behind Teacher Liability

According to Tolentino1, “a teacher must not only be charged with teaching but also vigilance over their
students or pupils”. Without the parents to look after their children when in school, it is the teacher who
takes over in the supervision. It is thus fitting that the basis of a teacher’s liability is the principle of “in loco
parentis”, which, according to Black’s Dictionary, means “in the place of a parent”, “exists when a person
undertakes care and control of another in absence of such supervision by natural parents and in absence
of formal legal approval, and is temporary in character and is not to be likened to an adoption which is
permanent”.

According to Sangco2, schools exercise their educational functional principally through their
administrators and teachers, while parents exercise their parental authority by sending their children to
school to comply with their duty to educate them according to their means, as provided in Article 220 of
the Family Code, and Article 72 of the Child and Youth Welfare Code, as amended. Consequently, when
parents send their minor child to school, they must necessarily pass on or share their parental authority,
their custody over the child, and the responsibility to educate their child properly with the school, its
administrators and teachers temporarily, as the latter shall assume such during all the time the child is
under their supervision and instruction. This, in essence, is the principle of substituted parental authority.

Relevant Legal Provisions

A teacher’s liability arises from the failure to provide due diligence in the performance of the
responsibilities that come with the substituted parental authority. Although the focus of this paper is on
this negligence called “Quasi Delict”, as provided in Art. 2180 of the Civil Code, it is inevitable to touch on

1 5 A. Tolentino, Commentaries and Jurisprudence on the Civil Code of the Philippines, 618
(1992).
2 2 C. Sangco, Philippine Law on Torts and Damages, 502 (1994).
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the other provisions that are the sources of the responsibilities that teachers assume. The following
relevant provisions are listed.

On Quasi-Delict, the Civil Code provides:

Art. 2180. The obligation imposed by Article 2176 is demandable not only for one's own acts or
omissions, but also for those of persons for whom one is responsible.

The father and, in case of his death or incapacity, the mother, are responsible for the damages
caused by the minor children who live in their company.

Guardians are liable for damages caused by the minors or incapacitated persons who are under
their authority and live in their company.

The owners and managers of an establishment or enterprise are likewise responsible for
damages caused by their employees in the service of the branches in which the latter are
employed or on the occasion of their functions.

Employers shall be liable for the damages caused by their employees and household helpers
acting within the scope of their assigned tasks, even though the former are not engaged in any
business or industry.

The State is responsible in like manner when it acts through a special agent; but not when the
damage has been caused by the official to whom the task done properly pertains, in which case
what is provided in Article 2176 shall be applicable.

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.

The responsibility treated of in this article shall cease when the persons herein mentioned prove
that they observed all the diligence of a good father of a family to prevent damage. (1903a)

On Substitute Parental Authority, the Civil Code provides:

Art. 349. The following persons shall exercise substitute parental authority:
(1) Guardians;
(2) Teachers and professors;
(3) Heads of children's homes, orphanages, and similar institutions;
(4) Directors of trade establishments, with regard to apprentices;
(5) Grandparents;
(6) The oldest brother or sister.

Art. 350. The persons named in the preceding article shall exercise reasonable supervision over
the conduct of the child.

Art. 352. The relations between teacher and pupil, professor and student, are fixed by
government regulations and those of each school or institution. In no case shall corporal
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punishment be countenanced. The teacher or professor shall cultivate the best potentialities of
the heart and mind of the pupil or student.

Art. 353. Apprentices shall be treated humanely. No corporal punishment against the apprentice
shall be permitted.

On Substitute and Special Parental Authority, the Family Code provides:

Art. 218. The school, its administrators and teachers, or the individual, entity or institution
engaged in child are shall have special parental authority and responsibility over the minor child
while under their supervision, instruction or custody.

Authority and responsibility shall apply to all authorized activities whether inside or outside the
premises of the school, entity or institution. (349a)

Art. 219. Those given the authority and responsibility under the preceding Article shall be
principally and solidarily liable for damages caused by the acts or omissions of the
unemancipated minor. The parents, judicial guardians or the persons exercising substitute
parental authority over said minor shall be subsidiarily liable.

The respective liabilities of those referred to in the preceding paragraph shall not apply if it is
proved that they exercised the proper diligence required under the particular circumstances.

All other cases not covered by this and the preceding articles shall be governed by the provisions
of the Civil Code on quasi-delicts. (n)

It is clear that teachers assume authority from the parents, and yet teachers are not allowed to inflict
corporal punishment on the student, as provided in Art. 352 of the Civil Code. So to determine the liability
of teachers that stand in the place of a parent, we focus on paragraph 7 of Art. 2180 of the Civil Code
which deals with the vicarious liability that makes one liable not only of one’s own acts or omissions, but
also for those of persons for whom one is responsible.

Liability under paragraph 7 of Article 2180

Paragraph 7 of 2180 says, “…teachers or heads of establishments of arts and trades shall be liable for
damages caused by their pupils and students or apprentices...” Does this mean that teachers of academic
schools cannot be held liable? In the Exconde3 case, which involved an academic school, it was held that
teachers and heads of academic schools are not liable. In the same case, Justice J.B.L. Reyes dissented
and argued that the liability under 2180 was imposed on teachers, in general, and on heads of schools of
arts and trades, in particular. He argued that “establishments of arts and trades" should apply only to
"heads" and not "teachers". The same decision was reiterated in the Mercado4 case, which also involved
an academic school.

3 Exconde v. Capuno, G.R. No. L-10068-70, June 29, 1957, 101 Phil, 843.
4 Mercado v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. L-14342, May 30, 1960, 08 Phil. 414.
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However, in Palisoc5, although the case involved an arts and trades school, Justice Teehankee, via a
footnote, indicated that he agreed with Justice Reyes' dissent in the Exconde case.

Finally, in the Amadora6 case which involved an academic school, the court held that the provision in
question should apply to all schools, academic as well as arts and trades. It basically adopted Justice
Reyes’ dissent by applying the principle of reddendo singula singulis, where "teachers" should apply to
the words "pupils and students", while "heads of establishments of arts and trades" to "apprentices."

Responsibility over Non-Minors

Does a student need to be a minor for a teacher to be liable? In the Palisoc7 case, the defendant Daffon
was of age at the time he caused the death of Palisoc, a 16 year old student of the Manila Technical
Institute, an arts and trades school, and yet, both the owner of the school and the teacher-in-charge were
held liable. This is one of the differences between a parent’s responsibility and that of a teacher’s. Under
Article 221 of the Family Code of the Philippines8, parents are responsible for their unemancipated minor
children, while Article 2180 of the Civil Code does not provide any qualifications nor age limit. Thus, the
liability of a teacher applies to all students, even those of age. Although according to Tolentino9, who
quotes Plainol & Ripert, the degree of vigilance of non-minors is not the same as over minors. This view is
supported by Articles 218 and 219 of the Family Code.

Liability Outside School

May a teacher escape liability for outings and activities held outside the school but authorized by the
school? Art 218 states that “authority and responsibility shall apply to all authorized activities whether
inside or outside the premises of the school, entity or institution.” In the case of St. Mary’s Academy10,
the Court held that special parental authority and responsibility applies to all authorized activities, whether
inside or outside the school premises.

Liability of the School in General

Aside from the teacher and head of the school, can the school itself be made liable? In general, the
liability of the teacher does not extend to the school. This was the ruling in the case of Pasco11 where the

5 Palisoc v. Brillantes, G.R. No. L-29025, October 4, 1971, 41 SCRA 548.


6 Amadora v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. L-47745 April 15, 1988, 160 SCRA 315.
7 Palisoc v. Brillantes, supra.
8 Art. 221. Parents and other persons exercising parental authority shall be civilly liable for
the injuries and damages caused by the acts or omissions of their unemancipated children
living in their company and under their parental authority subject to the appropriate
defenses provided by law.
9 5 A. Tolentino, Commentaries and Jurisprudence on the Civil Code of the Philippines, 618
(1992).
10 St. Mary’s Academy v. Carpitanos, G.R. No.143363, February 6, 2002, 376 SCRA 473.
11 Pasco vs Court of First Instance of Bulacan, G.R. No. L-54357, April 25, 1988, 160 SCRA
785.
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Court held that Art. 2180 speaks only of "teachers or heads." However, in the St. Francis12 case, the court
held that the school can be held liable under paragraph 5, rather than paragraph 7 of Art. 2180, as long
as it can be proved that the wrongful act of the teachers was within the scope of their assigned tasks.
Thus, the school’s liability is that of an employer via the principle of “respondeat superior” which holds the
employer responsible for the wrongful acts of its employees.

In the later case of St. Mary’s Case13, it was held that “For a school to be held liable, there must be a
finding that the act or omission considered as negligent was the proximate cause of the injury caused
because the negligence must have a causal connection to the accident.” In this particular case, the
negligence of the school was only a remote cause, so the school was exculpated.

Liability of the School on Acts of a Stranger

In the PSBA14 case, although the person injured was a student of PSBA, the person that caused the
injury was not a student of PSBA. Art. 2180 on quasi delict would naturally not apply as it requires that
the damage should be caused by a student of the educational institution. However, the Court also held
that although 2180 does not apply, the school’s liability can arise from a breach in contract as when an
educational institution accepts students for enrolment, there exists a contract which is one “imbued with
public interest”. This contract produces bilateral obligations, and one of the school’s obligations is to
provide their students with an atmosphere that is conducive in furthering their primary purpose which is to
impart knowledge. A similar ruling was adopted in the case of Regino v. Pangasinan Colleges of Science
and Technology15 where it upheld the school-student relationship as contractual in nature. In the case of
Soliman16, although the Court held that the school was not liable for the acts of the school security guard
whose employer was a security agency, the court still upheld the school-student contractual relationship.

In Custody

Art. 2180 includes the phrase “…so long as they remain in their custody.” Does this mean that a student
needs to live with the teacher or board with the school before the teacher may be held liable? In the
Mercado17 case, the Court held that it was indeed a necessary condition, but in the Palisoc18 case, this
holding was reversed when the Court held that students need not live with the school teacher for the latter
to be liable for the former’s tort.

12 St. Francis High School v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 82465, February 25, 1991, 194 SCRA
341.
13 St. Mary’s Academy v. Carpitanos, supra.
14 Philippine School of Business Administration v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No.84698, February
4, 1992,205 SCRA 729.
15 Regino v. Pangasinan Colleges of Science and Technology, G.R. No. 156109, November
18, 2004, 443 SCRA 56.
16 Soliman, Jr v. Tuazon, G.R. No. 66207, May 18, 1992, 209 SCRA 47
17 Mercado v. Court of Appeals, supra.
18 Palisoc v. Brillantes, supra.
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The fact that the student is currently enrolled in the school or that a student is present in the school does
not signify that the student is automatically under the custody of the teacher and does not guarantee
liability on the part of the teacher.

In the Amadora19 case, the student is considered in the custody of the school authorities for as long as he
is under the control and influence of the school and within its premises, regardless of whether the
semester has started or has ended. In the Palisoc case, the Court held that the teacher’s responsibility is
to provide supervision during the whole time that the students are at attendance in the school, including
recess time. And in the Salvosa20 case, the court clarified that “recess” does not include dismissal, and
thus, being enrolled or being in the premises of the school without more, does not constitute “attending
school”.

Defense Against Liability

To avoid responsibility and liability, the teacher must prove that due diligence was observed. As to the
kind of due diligence, the last paragraph of Art 2180 is clear – “The persons must prove that they have
observed all the diligence of a good father of a family to prevent damage”.

In the cases of Amadora and St Francis21, the accused parties have proven that they have exercised the
diligence required of them by law under the circumstances to guard against the harm they had foreseen”

Waivers

Can a teacher or school escape responsibility by asking parents to file a waiver during field trips and
outings? This issue is closely related to liabilities outside school and Art 218 is clear that “authority and
responsibility shall apply to all authorized activities whether inside or outside the premises of the school,
entity or institution.” In the case of St. Francis, the Court still held some teachers responsible despite the
fact that the parent permitted the child to go to the picnic.

Summary

The table below summarizes what principle to use depending on who is at fault.

Who Is at Fault Who to Sue What to Base Liability On Case to Adopt


Student Teacher 2180 par 7 - loco parentis
Teacher School 2180 par 5 - respondeat superior St. Francis Academy v. CA
Stranger School Contract PSBA v. CA

19 Amadora v. Court of Appeals, supra.


20 Salvosa vs Intermediate Appellate Court, G.R. No. L-70458, October 5, 1988, 166 SCRA
274.
21 St. Francis High School v. Court of Appeals, supra.