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G.R. No. 137772

SECOND DIVISION

[ G.R. NO. 137772, August 29, 2005 ]

AMADOR CORPUZ AND ROMEO GONZALES, PETITIONERS, VS. EDISON LUGUE AND CATHERINE BALUYOT, RESPONDENTS.

D E C I S I O N

CHICO-NAZARIO, J.:

Before Us is a Petition for Review on Certiorari assailing the Court of Appeals Decision[1] affirming the Regional Trial Court (RTC) decision[2] finding herein petitioners liable for the injuries suffered by respondent Edison Lugue as a result of an accident involving four (4) vehicles, one of which was then driven by petitioner Romeo Gonzales and owned by petitioner Amador Corpuz.

The pertinent facts are as follows:

On 14 September 1984, at around 7:15 in the morning, while an Isuzu KC-20 passenger jeep (KC-20), then being driven by Jimmy Basilio, was traversing the right side of the Roman Highway in Barangay Pias, Orion, Bataan, it collided with a tanker truck driven by Gerardo Lim, which was then moving from the right shoulder of the highway.  As a result of the collision, the KC-20 was thrown towards the left lane of the highway where it was bumped by a Mazda minibus (minibus) being driven by herein petitioner Gonzales who was then trying to overtake the KC-20.  At that point, the KC-20 spun and bumped a Transcon service truck parked on the left side of the highway.  As a result of the impact, the KC-20 was thrown across the highway where it was again hit by the minibus pushing the former towards a deep portion on the left side of the road.  As a consequence of the accident, passengers of the KC-20, including respondent Lugue, suffered physical injuries.

To summarize, the parties involved in the vehicular accident are as follows: 
 
VEHICLE
OWNER
DRIVER
Isuzu KC-20
Ricardo Santiago
Jimmy Basilio
Tanker  Truck

Oscar  Jaring

Gerardo Lim

Mazda minibus

Amador  Corpuz

Romeo Gonzales


Respondent Lugue then filed an action for damages arising from the vehicular incident before the Balanga, Bataan RTC, Branch 2, against herein petitioners Amador Corpuz and Romeo Gonzales, owner and driver of the minibus, respectively, and Oscar Jaring and Gerardo Lim, owner and driver of the tanker truck, respectively.  Therein defendants filed a third-party complaint against Ricardo Santiago and Jimmy Basilio, owner/operator and driver of the KC-20, respectively.

After trial, the lower court rendered a decision holding jointly and severally liable Ricardo Santiago, Jimmy Basilio, Oscar Jaring, Gerardo Lim, Amador Corpuz, and Romeo Gonzales.  The appurtenant portions of the decision read:

There are two (2) versions of the accident in question respectively espoused by the several parties in the instant case.  One version is that put forth by plaintiff Edison Lugue (including his witness Remigio Gervacio) and also by defendants and third-party plaintiffs Amador Corpuz and Romeo Gonzales.  The other version is that advanced by defendants and third-party plaintiffs Oscar Jaring and Gerardo Lim.
These two versions shall be discussed and their respective merits analyzed.  Whichever version is found to be plausible shall determine the proximate cause earlier mentioned.

(1)  The Lugue-Corpuz version:

The Isuzu KC-20 Edison Lugue was riding on the date in question was being driven by third-party defendant Jimmy Basilio on the center of the right lane of the national highway headed toward Lamao, Limay, Bataan.  When said KC-20 was about 25 to 30 meters from the tanker truck owned by defendant Oscar Jaring, which tanker truck was then just beginning to make a headstart from its former parked position on the right shoulder of said highway, the portion on the left headlight of the tanker truck bumped the KC-20 on its middle portion of the right side.  As a result, the KC-20 was thrown to the left side of the highway facing Mariveles and, immediately thereafter, it was bumped by the Mazda minibus owned by defendant Amador Corpuz and then driven by defendant Romeo Gonzales.  As a result of such second bumping of the KC-20, it spun and bumped a service truck of the Transcon which was parked on the left side of the highway facing Mariveles.  Finally, the KC-20 fell crumpled on the left concrete lane of the road facing Balanga.

(2)  The Jaring-Lim version:

While third-party plaintiff Oscar Jaring’s tanker truck was parked on the asphalted shoulder on the right side of the highway near the Caltex at Barangay Pias, Townsite, Limay, Bataan, on the date in question, and he was having some invoices recorded by Caltex employees at the guardhouse, which was some ten and a half (10-1/2) meters away from said tanker truck, he was not looking at said truck and the KC-20.  But just the same he testified that the right fender of the KC-20 hit the left front portion of the fender of the tanker truck.  As a result, the KC-20 went to the other side of the road, where it was bumped by the minibus behind it.  Then the KC-20 hit the rear portion of the Transcon service truck.  The minibus bumped the KC-20 again, after which the latter continued on toward Mariveles for about 100 meters until it finally fell into a deep portion of the road.

. . .

It will be noted that the Lugue-Corpuz version was testified to by at least four (4) witnesses – Edison Lugue, Remigio Gervacio, Patrocinio Carillo and Romeo Gonzales, whereas the Jaring-Lim version was testified to by only one (1) witness – Ricardo Puno.  Oscar Jaring himself did not testify to having witnessed the incident.  On the other hand, the driver of the tanker truck defendant Gerardo Lim, admitted expressly in his oral testimony that he was at the guardhouse at the time the accident happened, because he was having some invoices recorded by the Caltex employees.  Clearly, therefore, he did not witness the accident involving the KC-20 and the tanker truck because he was not looking at said two vehicles.  Whatever version he testified to of the subject accident could not have been otherwise than pure hearsay.



From the foregoing discussion of the respective two versions of the subject accident and the evidence adduced, it would appear that –

(1)  The tanker truck owned by defendant Oscar Jaring, whose authorized driver at the time of the accident was defendant Gerardo Lim, was not actually parked completely (if it was parked at all) on the right shoulder of the national highway where the accident took place, witness Ricardo Puno testified or as defendant Jaring’s photographed marked as Exhibits “1,” “1-A” and “1-B” would tend to show.  If it was parked at all, the plausible likelihood was that it was so parked that while its right front and rear wheels were touching the right asphalted shoulder of that highway, however its left front and rear wheels were actually on the concrete right lane of said highway, with its left front fender and bumper protruding well into said right lane, thus constituting a stumbling block to vehicles traveling on such right lane facing the direction where plaintiff Edison Lugue was going then.

This conclusion is bolstered by the obvious fact that from said photograph Exhibit “1” it can be seen that the right bumper of the tanker truck appears to have detached from its former connection to the left front portion of the tanker truck and such left end now appears to have been bent forward.  The fender of the same truck also appears to have been damaged on the same left side, with a vertical long portion cut from said fender.

If said tanker truck was thus parked as posted in the two foregoing paragraphs, then it had been parked in a negligent manner by its driver, who thereby did not exercise ordinary or simple human prudence or foresight to avoid any portion of said truck from obstructing the way of any oncoming motor vehicle being driven on said right or proper lane of the highway.  Any normal or average human being, especially a motor vehicle driver, ought to know that the concrete lanes of highways are intended to be traversed by motor vehicles and are not intended to be used as parking areas.  Even in case of emergency, only the shoulders of such highways may be used for parking purposes.



(3)  There was also the possibility testified to by plaintiff Edison Lugue, his witness Remigio Gervacio and defendant Romeo Gonzales to the effect that the tanker truck was not actually parked but was actually already moving or being driven from its former parked position and its left front wheel (and perhaps even the left rear wheels) had occupied a portion of the concrete right lane of the highway which was also being traversed then by the KC-20.

This possibility is silently corroborated by the condition of the front bumper and fender of the tanker truck depicted in the photograph marked as Exhibit “1,” as already described hereinbefore, having in mind the fact that not a single witness testified to having seen the Isuzu KC-20 leave the concrete right lane and occupy the asphalted shoulder.

On the plane of logic, this version is also supported by the undisputed fact testified by practically all the witnesses who testified that after the physical contact between the tanker truck and the KC-20, the latter vehicle was shoved from its proper right lane to the left lane as a result of the impact.  Such resulting shoving effect could have been the consequence of the push it got from the tanker truck which was already moving then toward the concrete right lane.

(4) On the other hand, neither may the Lugue-Corpuz version on the physical contact between the KC-20 and the tanker truck be swallowed or considered as entirely correct.  This version attempts to show that the tanker truck, while being initially driven away from the right asphalted shoulder of the highway into the concrete right lane of said highway, bumped with its left side the right middle portion of the body of said KC-20, thus causing the latter to be shoved to the left concrete lane of said highway, where it was bumped by the passing or overtaking Mazda minibus.

Plaintiff Edison Lugue himself testified on direct examination that the first time he saw the tanker truck was when the KC-20 was about 25 to 30 meters from said truck.  At that time, he said, the truck was just beginning to make a headstart and was still on the asphalted shoulder of the highway.  On cross-examination, he modified that distance between the two vehicles the first time he saw them to “from 20 to 35 meters.”  He also stated that at that distance from the truck, the KC-20 did not slow down until it was bumped by the truck; and that all of the four wheels of the truck were originally occupying the shoulder of the highway.

If all of the wheels of the tanker truck had originally been occupying the asphalted shoulder of the highway and said vehicle was just beginning to make a headstart toward the right concrete lane of the highway, then the most probable course or direction of said truck could have been forward but slightly oblique toward its left.  Very likely, the truck was still running on first gear, which means it was still going very slowly.  Even plaintiff Edison Lugue and driver Romeo Gonzales of the Mazda minibus following the KC-20 did not say that the tanker truck was being driven squarely across the right lane of the highway.

If defendant driver Jimmy Basilio of the KC-20 had seen the tanker truck while at a distance of 20 to 35 meters away from it, if he had been prudent and careful he could still avoid having his vehicle get in physical contact with said truck.  That distance was still adequate for him to swerve the steering wheel slightly to the left so as to avoid such truck getting in contact with his KC-20.  But there is no showing whatsoever that he did that. A number of possibilities present themselves.

(a) Because Jimmy Basilio was driving the KC-20 fast, as Lugue stated, he must have calculated that it could already safely pass the truck without the need of swerving the steering wheel even slightly to the left.

(b) Basilio might have had in mind the Mazda minibus which was trailing the KC-20 and which was going through the motions of passing or overtaking such KC-20. He may have calculated that if he would swerve the KC-20 even slightly to the left, it might go directly on the path of the minibus. So he avoided swerving the KC-20 and went steadily forward, hoping to safely pass the tanker truck at the fast rate of speed he was then driving. Plaintiff Lugue testified that the KC-20 he was riding in did not change course or position on the right lane of the highway just before the bumping occurred. In other words, the KC-20 did not change course nor relax its speed before the actual physical contact between the tanker truck and the KC-20.

In such a situation, wherein there was a truck starting to crawl on the right lane traversed by the KC-20 and there was a minibus trailing it, and in the process of passing or overtaking the KC-20, the driver of the minibus (sic) was expected to exercise caution and prudence to avoid hitting or being hit by either or both other motor vehicles before it or trailing it, the fact that the driver of the KC-20 did not either slacken his speed or even swerve his steering wheel, however slightly, to avoid hitting or being hit by the tanker truck bespeaks reckless imprudence on the part of third-party defendant Jimmy Basilio as driver of said KC-20. Had he even only slackened the speed of the KC-20, he could have avoided any contact between it and the tanker truck, given that distance of “25 to 35 meters” from said truck when the latter was first seen. He chose not to do so.

“Reckless imprudence consists in the doing or failing to do an act, voluntarily, but without malice, from which material damage results by reason of inexcusable lack of precaution on the part of the person performing or failing to perform such act, taking into consideration his employment or occupation, degree of intelligence, physical condition and other circumstances regarding persons, time and place. (Art. 365, Revised Penal Code)”


(3) Defendant Gerardo Lim, as driver of the subject tanker truck with Plate No. CVC-563 Phil. ‘84 on the date in question, has been shown to have been grossly negligent in either (a) improperly parking his said truck on the right lane of the national highway instead of totally on the asphalted shoulder of said highway, or (b) driving said tanker truck from said shoulder of the highway into the right lane of said highway without previously carefully observing and making sure that no other vehicle was coming from the rear of his vehicle so as to avoid any possible accident from such direction, which gross negligence constituted the proximate cause of the accident in question.

Otherwise stated, had he not parked his truck improperly, or had he made sure that there was no oncoming vehicle from the direction of the rear of his truck, the initial bumping between the said tanker truck and the Isuzu KC-20 would not have taken place and the subsequent bumpings by and among the other vehicles involved in the subject accident would not have occurred.

He is also liable due to culpa aquiliana or quasi-delict, under the provisions of Articles 2176 to 2194, inclusive, of the same Code.

(4) As far as defendant Amador Corpuz is concerned, who is the owner-operator of the Mazda minibus with Plate No. CVC-563-Phil. ’84 being driven by defendant Romeo Gonzales on the date in question, he failed to prove that he had observed all the diligence of a good father of a family to prevent the damage sustained by plaintiff Lugue as a consequence of the proven negligence of his said driver Romeo Gonzales.

He is liable for quasi-delict or culpa aquiliana under the provisions of Articles 1733 or 1766, inclusive of the same code.

(5) With respect to defendant and third-party plaintiff Oscar Jaring, as owner-operator of the subject tanker truck driven by defendant and third-party plaintiff Gerardo Lim, he failed to prove that he had observed all the diligence of a good father of a family to prevent the damage sustained by plaintiff Lugue as a consequence of the proven negligence of his said driver Gerardo Lim.

He is liable for culpa aquiliana or quasi-delict under the provisions of Articles 1733 to 1766, inclusive, of the same Civil Code.

(6) Concerning defendant Romeo Gonzales, driver of the subject Mazda minibus with Plate No. CVC-563-Phil. ’84 on the date of the accident in question, he has been shown to have been grossly negligent in the manner he drove or operated the said motor vehicle, which gross negligence constituted an intervening cause for the accident which occurred and which resulted in the injuries sustained by plaintiff Edison Lugue.

He is liable for quasi-delict or culpa aquiliana, provided for under Articles 1733 to 1766, inclusive, of the same Code.


WHEREFORE, the Court hereby renders judgment in favor of plaintiffs and against all the defendants and third-party defendants –

(a)  Declaring third-party defendants Ricardo Santiago and Jimmy Basilio liable for culpa contractual and for culpa aquiliana and to plaintiff Edison Lugue in respect to the accident subject of the instant action and ordering them to pay jointly to said plaintiff (1)  Nineteen Thousand Nine Hundred Forty-Eight Pesos and Ninety Centavos (P19,948.90), Philippine Currency, as actual or compensatory damages; (2)  Actual or compensatory damages in the sum of Two Thousand Eleven Pesos (P2,011.00) every month from 14 September 1985, representing the diminution in the monthly salary of plaintiff Edison Lugue as a result of the physical injuries sustained by him arising from the subject accident, or Twenty-Four Thousand One Hundred Thirty-Two Pesos (P24,132.00) every calendar year from the aforementioned year, until he shall have been fully paid; and (3) Moral damages in the sum of Fifty Thousand Pesos (P50,000.00);

(b) Declaring defendants Amador Corpuz, Romeo Gonzales, Oscar Jaring and Gerardo Lim solidarily liable for culpa aquiliana or quasi-delict to Edison Lugue in connection with the same accident and ordering them to pay jointly and severally to said plaintiff the various damages enumerated in Nos. (1) to (3), inclusive, in the foregoing subparagraph (a).

In no case shall said plaintiff be allowed to recover twice from the aforementioned defendants the aforestated damages.

Plaintiffs having instituted the present action as paupers-litigants, the docket and other fees that they were exempted from paying shall constitute a lien on any amount that they may collect under this decision.[3]
Aggrieved by said decision of the trial court, Oscar Jaring and Gerardo Lim, owner and driver of the tanker truck respectively, and Amador Corpuz and Romeo Gonzales, owner and driver of the minibus respectively, filed an appeal before the appellate court.  Third-party defendants Santiago and Basilio, owner and driver of the KC-20 respectively, did not interpose an appeal.

On 09 March 1999, the Court of Appeals granted the appeal of Oscar Jaring and Gerardo Lim, while it dismissed that of plaintiffs Santiago and Basilio in this wise:
WHEREFORE, the appealed judgment is MODIFIED as follows:

1.) Defendants Ricardo Santiago and Jimmy Basilio are declared jointly and severally liable with defendants-appellants Amador Corpuz and Romeo Gonzales; and

2.) Defendants-appellants Oscar Jaring and Gerardo Lim are absolved from liability and the Complaint as against them is DISMISSED.

In all other respects, the appealed Decision is AFFIRMED.[4]
Hence, the instant petition by Amador Corpuz and Romeo Gonzales.

Petitioners’ arguments can be summarized in one issue: whether or not the appellate court erred in holding them liable for damages based on the findings of facts adduced by the trial court.  Petitioners emphasize that nowhere in the trial court’s 43-page decision was there any finding that would remotely support the court a quo’s conclusion that petitioners are liable for the injuries suffered by respondent Lugue.

We find merit in the petition.

A careful perusal of the lower court’s decision will show that the following were established during trial through the testimonies of petitioners’ witnesses:
I. According to the testimony of witness Remigio Gervacio during the direct examination, who was then seated on the middle right portion of the minibus, the minibus he was riding was following a KC-20 which was being driven on the right lane of the highway facing Mariveles, while the minibus was occupying the left portion of the road facing the same direction, a little beyond the center line.  Then a tanker truck bumped the KC-20, which was thrown to the left portion of the road facing Mariveles.  Because the minibus was then already near to the KC-20, it bumped the KC-20.[5]

II. Petitioner Gonzales, on direct examination, stated that the minibus he was driving on the concrete highway was following a KC-20 vehicle.  Then he made a signal to overtake the KC-20 because the way was clear.  When the minibus was about ten (10) meters from the KC-20, about to overtake the latter, all of a sudden a gasoline tanker entered the road.  While doing so, the tanker bumped the KC-20, as a result of which the latter moved to a position blocking the way of the minibus, the left lane facing Mariveles.  He did everything to avoid the KC-20.  He pressed the brake fully.  But the tanker was already too close to the minibus, that was why the latter hit the KC-20.[6]

III. Witness Patrocinio Carillo, a passenger of the minibus seated beside his wife who was seated on the front seat beside the driver, maintained that the minibus had been running on the superhighway trailing an Isuzu KC-20.  When the minibus was right in front of the Caltex place, it attempted to pass or overtake the KC-20 it had been following by swerving to the left lane facing Mariveles.  At that moment, the front of the minibus was about eight (8) meters behind the rear portion of the KC-20, the latter was suddenly thrown to the left and thus it blocked the path of the Mazda minibus.  As a result, the minibus bumped the left rear portion of the KC-20.  This bumping happened when both vehicles were already on the left lane of the highway facing Mariveles.[7]
From the foregoing testimonies, as well as the discussion of the trial court earlier quoted, it is clear that the proximate cause of the injuries suffered by respondent Lugue was the collision between the KC-20 and the tanker truck.  As correctly pointed out by the lower court, proximate legal cause is that acting first and producing the injury either immediately or by setting other events in motion, all constituting a natural and continuous chain of events, each having a close causal connection with its immediate predecessor, the final event in the chain immediately effecting the injury as a natural and probable result of the cause which first acted, under such circumstances that the person responsible for the first event should, as an ordinarily prudent and intelligent person, have reasonable ground to expect at the moment of his act or default that an injury to some person might probably result therefrom.[8]

Having stated such, it now becomes the trial court’s responsibility to adjudge who between the drivers of the two colliding vehicles was negligent and thus liable for damages brought about by the injuries suffered by Edison Lugue.  This issue was settled by the court a quo in this wise:
In such a situation, wherein there was a truck starting to crawl on the right lane traversed by the KC-20 and there was a minibus trailing it, and in the process of passing or overtaking the KC-20, the driver of the minibus (sic) was expected to exercise caution and prudence to avoid hitting or being hit by either or both other motor vehicles before it or trailing it, the fact that the driver of the KC-20 did not either slacken his speed or even swerve his steering wheel, however slightly, to avoid hitting or being hit by the tanker truck bespeaks reckless imprudence on the part of third-party defendant Jimmy Basilio as driver of said KC-20. Had he even only slackened the speed of the KC-20, he could have avoided any contact between it and the tanker truck, given that distance of “25 to 35 meters” from said truck when the latter was first seen. He chose not to do so.[9] [Emphasis ours]
Therefore, it is clear that it was the reckless imprudence of the driver of the KC-20, Jimmy Basilio, that set the other events in motion which eventually led to the passengers of the KC-20 sustaining physical injuries.

Nonetheless, in a single paragraph of its ten-page Decision, the Court of Appeals discussed the alleged negligence of Romeo Gonzales, and thus attributed liability to the latter, the driver of the minibus, to wit:
We however find no merit in the appeal of Amador Corpuz and Romeo Gonzales.  Faced with the situation where the truck parked on the side was at a headstart in crawling towards the cemented portion of the highway, still the Mazda mini bus recklessly proceeded in attempting to overtake the Isuzu passenger jeep unmindful of the spatial limitations of the road.  Defendant-driver Romeo Gonzales was clearly negligent.[10]
This conclusion of the appellate court of recklessness on the part of petitioner Gonzales is, however, unwarranted.  Based on the unchallenged testimony of petitioner Gonzales, he signaled to overtake the KC-20 because the way was clear.[11]  That despite his best effort to do everything to avoid hitting the KC-20, petitioner failed to do so because the KC-20 had moved to a position blocking the way of the minibus as a result of the tanker bumping the KC-20.[12]  Furthermore, based on the unrebutted testimony of both Remigio Gervacio[13] and Patrocinio Carillo,[14] at the time when the minibus hit the KC-20, the former was already moving towards the middle portion of the highway, occupying the left portion of the road, a little beyond the center line.  Certainly, even assuming that petitioner Gonzales had a few seconds before actual collision, he no longer had any opportunity to avoid it.[15]  Petitioner Gonzales cannot be deemed negligent for failing to prevent the collision even after applying all means available to him within the few instants when he had discovered the impending peril.[16]

In a similar case where a jeepney bound for Isabela collided with a bus on its regular route to Manila when the latter encroached upon the jeepney’s lane while it was negotiating a curve, the Court declared that:
[E]ven assuming that the jeepney driver perceived the danger a few seconds before the actual collision, he had no opportunity to avoid it.  This Court has held that the last clear chance doctrine “can never apply where the party charged is required to act instantaneously, and if the injury cannot be avoided by the application of all means at hand after the peril is or should have been discovered.[17]
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition is hereby GRANTED.  The Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 37085,  finding  petitioners  Amador  Corpuz  and Romeo Gonzales liable, is

hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE.  In all other respects, the Court of Appeals Decision is hereby AFFIRMED.  No costs.

SO ORDERED.

Puno, (Chairman), Austria-Martinez, Callejo, Sr., and Tinga, JJ., concur.



[1] CA-G.R. CV No. 37085, dated 09 March 1999, penned by Associate Justice Portia Aliño-Hormachuelos with Associate Justices Buenaventura J. Guerrero and Teodoro P. Regino concurring.

[2] Civil Case No. 5309, dated 31 July 1991.

[3] RTC decision, pp. 35-43; Rollo, pp. 57-65.

[4] CA Decision, p. 10; Rollo, p. 86.

[5] RTC decision, p. 23.

[6] Id., pp. 24-25.

[7] Id., p. 25.

[8] Id., p. 34, citing Bataclan v. Medina, 102 Phil. 186 (1957).

[9] Id., p. 39.

[10] CA Decision, pp. 8-9.

[11] RTC decision, p. 24.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Id., p. 23.

[14] Id.,  p. 25.

[15] See Pantranco North Express, Inc. v. Baesa, G.R. Nos. 79050-51, 14 November 1989, 179 SCRA 384, citing Ong v. Metropolitan Water District, 104 Phil 397 (1958).

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

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