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351 Phil. 219


[ G.R. No. 118889, March 23, 1998 ]




For damages suffered by a third party, may an action based on quasi-delict prosper against a rent-a-car company and, consequently, its insurer for fault or negligence of the car lessee in driving the rented vehicle?

This was a two-car collision at dawn. At around 3 o'clock of 21 April 1987, two (2) vehicles, both Mitsubishi Colt Lancers, cruising northward along Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, Mandaluyong City, figured in a traffic accident. The car bearing Plate No. PDG 435 owned by Lydia F. Soriano was being driven at the outer lane of the highway by Benjamin Jacildone, while the other car, with Plate No. PCT 792, owned by respondent FILCAR Transport, Inc. (FILCAR), and driven by Peter Dahl-Jensen as lessee, was at the center lane, left of the other vehicle. Upon approaching the corner of Pioneer Street, the car owned by FILCAR swerved to the right hitting the left side of the car of Soriano. At that time Dahl-Jensen, a Danish tourist, did not possess a Philippine driver's license.[1]

As a consequence, petitioner FGU Insurance Corporation, in view of its insurance contract with Soriano, paid the latter P25,382.20. By way of subrogation,[2] it sued Dahl-Jensen and respondent FILCAR as well as respondent Fortune Insurance Corporation (FORTUNE) as insurer of FILCAR for quasi-delict before the Regional Trial Court of Makati City.

Unfortunately, summons was not served on Dahl-Jensen since he was no longer staying at his given address; in fact, upon motion of petitioner, he was dropped from the complaint.

On 30 July 1991 the trial court dismissed the case for failure of petitioner to substantiate its claim of subrogation.[3]

On 31 January 1995 respondent Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling of the trial court although based on another ground, i.e., only the fault or negligence of Dahl-Jensen was sufficiently proved but not that of respondent FILCAR.[4] In other words, petitioner failed to establish its cause of action for sum of money based on quasi-delict.

In this appeal, petitioner insists that respondents are liable on the strength of the ruling in MYC-Agro-Industrial Corporation v. Vda. de Caldo[5] that the registered owner of a vehicle is liable for damages suffered by third persons although the vehicle is leased to another.

We find no reversible error committed by respondent court in upholding the dismissal of petitioner's complaint. The pertinent provision is Art. 2176 of the Civil Code which states: "Whoever by act or omission causes damage to another, there being fault or negligence, is obliged to pay for the damage done. Such fault or negligence, if there is no pre-existing contractual relation between the parties, is called a quasi-delict x x x x"

To sustain a claim based thereon, the following requisites must concur: (a) damage suffered by the plaintiff; (b) fault or negligence of the defendant; and, (c) connection of cause and effect between the fault or negligence of the defendant and the damage incurred by the plaintiff.[6]

We agree with respondent court that petitioner failed to prove the existence of the second requisite, i.e., fault or negligence of defendant FILCAR, because only the fault or negligence of Dahl-Jensen was sufficiently established, not that of FILCAR. It should be noted that the damage caused on the vehicle of Soriano was brought about by the circumstance that Dahl-Jensen swerved to the right while the vehicle that he was driving was at the center lane. It is plain that the negligence was solely attributable to Dahl-Jensen thus making the damage suffered by the other vehicle his personal liability. Respondent FILCAR did not have any participation therein.

Article 2180 of the same Code which deals also with quasi-delict provides:

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.

The liability imposed by Art. 2180 arises by virtue of a presumption juris tantum of negligence on the part of the persons made responsible thereunder, derived from their failure to exercise due care and vigilance over the acts of subordinates to prevent them from causing damage.[7] Yet, as correctly observed by respondent court, Art. 2180 is hardly applicable because none of the circumstances mentioned therein obtains in the case under consideration. Respondent FILCAR being engaged in a rent-a-car business was only the owner of the car leased to Dahl-Jensen. As such, there was no vinculum juris between them as employer and employee. Respondent FILCAR cannot in any way be responsible for the negligent act of Dahl-Jensen, the former not being an employer of the latter.

We now correlate par. 5 of Art. 2180 with Art. 2184 of the same Code which provides: "In motor vehicle mishap, the owner is solidarily liable with his driver, if the former, who was in the vehicle, could have by the use of due diligence, prevented the misfortune x x x x If the owner was not in the motor vehicle, the provisions of article 2180 are applicable." Obviously, this provision of Art. 2184 is neither applicable because of the absence of master-driver relationship between respondent FILCAR and Dahl-Jensen. Clearly, petitioner has no cause of action against respondent FILCAR on the basis of quasi-delict; logically, its claim against respondent FORTUNE can neither prosper.

Petitioner's insistence on MYC-Agro-Industrial Corporation is rooted in a misapprehension of our ruling therein. In that case, the negligent and reckless operation of the truck owned by petitioner corporation caused injuries to several persons and damage to property. Intending to exculpate itself from liability, the corporation raised the defense that at the time of the collision it had no more control over the vehicle as it was leased to another; and, that the driver was not its employee but of the lessee. The trial court was not persuaded as it found that the true nature of the alleged lease contract was nothing more than a disguise effected by the corporation to relieve itself of the burdens and responsibilities of an employer. We upheld this finding and affirmed the declaration of joint and several liability of the corporation with its driver.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The decision of respondent Court of Appeals dated 31 January 1995 sustaining the dismissal of petitioner's complaint by the trial court is AFFIRMED. Costs against petitioner.


Davide, Jr.,(Chairman), Vitug, Panganiban and Quisumbing, JJ., concur.

[1] Traffic Accident Investigation Report; Records, p. 130.

[2] Subrogation is the substitution of one person in the place of another with reference to a lawful claim, demand or right, so that he who is substituted succeeds to the rights of the other in relation to the debt or claim, and its rights, remedies, or securities (Gerken v. Davidson Grocery Co., 57 Idaho 670, 69 P. 2d 122, 126). Subrogation denotes the exchange of a third person who has paid a debt in the place of the creditor to whom he has paid it, so that he may exercise against the debtor all the rights which the creditor, if unpaid, might have done x x x x Insurance companies, guarantors and bonding companies generally have the right to step into the shoes of the party whom they compensate and sue any party whom the compensated party could have sued (Black's Law Dictionary, 6th Ed., St. Paul, Minn., West Publishing Co., p. 1427).

[3] Decision penned by Judge Salvador S. Abad Santos, RTC-Br. 65, Makati City, Records, pp. 204-205.

[4] Decision penned by Justice Jaime M. Lantin with the concurrence of Justices Alicia Austria-Martinez and Conrado M. Vasquez Jr.; Rollo, p. 18.

[5] G.R. No. 57298, 7 September 1984, 132 SCRA 10.

[6] Andamo v. Intermediate Appellate Court, G.R. No. 74761, 6 November 1990, 191 SCRA 195.

[7] Arturo M. Tolentino, Commentaries and Jurisprudence on the Civil Code of the Philippines, 1992 Ed., Vol. V, p. 611.

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