Merritt vs Government of the Philippine Islands
34 Phil 311 – Civil Law – Torts and Damages – Liability of the State for acts of special agents
Political Law – Non-Suability of the State – Waiver of Non-Suability is Not Admission of Liability
The facts of the case took place in the 1910’s. E. Merritt was a constructor who was excellent at his work. One day, while he was riding his motorcycle along Calle Padre Faura, he was bumped by a government ambulance. The driver of the ambulance was proven to have been negligent. Because of the incident, Merritt was hospitalized and he was severely injured beyond rehabilitation so much so that he could never perform his job the way he used to and that he cannot even earn at least half of what he used to earn.
In order for Merritt to recover damages, he sought to sue the government which later authorized Merritt to sue the government by virtue of Act 2457 enacted by the legislature (An Act authorizing E. Merritt to bring suit against the Government of the Philippine Islands and authorizing the Attorney-General of said Islands to appear in said suit). The lower court then determined the amount of damages and ordered the government to pay the same.
ISSUE: Whether or not the government is liable for the negligent act of the driver of the ambulance.
HELD: No. By consenting to be sued a state simply waives its immunity from suit. It does not thereby concede its liability to plaintiff, or create any cause of action in his favor, or extend its liability to any cause not previously recognized. It merely gives a remedy to enforce a preexisting liability and submits itself to the jurisdiction of the court, subject to its right to interpose any lawful defense. It follows therefrom that the state, by virtue of such provisions of law, is not responsible for the damages suffered by private individuals in consequence of acts performed by its employees in the discharge of the functions pertaining to their office, because neither fault nor even negligence can be presumed on the part of the state in the organization of branches of public service and in the appointment of its agents. The State can only be liable if it acts through a special agent (and a special agent, in the sense in which these words are employed, is one who receives a definite and fixed order or commission, foreign to the exercise of the duties of his office if he is a special official) so that in representation of the state and being bound to act as an agent thereof, he executes the trust confided to him.
In the case at bar, the ambulance driver was not a special agent nor was a government officer acting as a special agent hence, there can be no liability from the government. “The Government does not undertake to guarantee to any person the fidelity of the officers or agents whom it employs, since that would involve it in all its operations in endless embarrassments, difficulties and losses, which would be subversive of the public interest.”