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591 Phil. 719

SECOND DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 161946, November 14, 2008 ]

MEDARDO AG. CADIENTE, PETITIONER, VS. BITHUEL MACAS, RESPONDENT.

DECISION

QUISUMBING, J.:

For review on certiorari are the Decision[1] dated September 16, 2002 and the Resolution[2] dated December 18, 2003 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 64103, which affirmed the Decision[3] of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Davao City, Branch 10, in Civil Case No. 23,723-95.

The facts are undisputed.

Eyewitness Rosalinda Palero testified that on July 19, 1994, at about 4:00 p.m., at the intersection of Buhangin and San Vicente Streets in Davao City, 15-year old high school student Bithuel Macas, herein respondent, was standing on the shoulder of the road. She was about two and a half meters away from the respondent when he was bumped and run over by a Ford Fiera, driven by Chona C. Cimafranca. Rosalinda and another unidentified person immediately came to the respondent's rescue and told Cimafranca to take the victim to the hospital. Cimafranca rushed the respondent to the Davao Medical Center.

Dr. Hilario Diaz, the orthopedic surgeon who attended to the respondent, testified that the respondent suffered severe muscular and major vessel injuries, as well as open bone fractures in both thighs and other parts of his legs. In order to save his life, the surgeon had to amputate both legs up to the groins.[4]

Cimafranca had since absconded and disappeared. Records showed that the Ford Fiera was registered in the name of herein petitioner, Atty. Medardo Ag. Cadiente. However, Cadiente claimed that when the accident happened, he was no longer the owner of the Ford Fiera. He alleged that he sold the vehicle to Engr. Rogelio Jalipa on March 28, 1994,[5] and turned over the Certificate of Registration and Official Receipt to Jalipa, with the understanding that the latter would be the one to cause the transfer of the registration.

The victim's father, Samuel Macas, filed a complaint[6] for torts and damages against Cimafranca and Cadiente before the RTC of Davao City, Branch 10. Cadiente later filed a third-party complaint[7] against Jalipa.

In answer, Jalipa claimed that he was no longer the owner of the Ford Fiera at the time of the accident. He alleged that he sold the vehicle to Abraham Abubakar on June 20, 1994.[8] He thus filed a fourth-party complaint[9] against Abubakar.

After trial, the court ruled:
WHEREFORE, judgment is rendered in favor of the plaintiff declaring Atty. Medardo Ag. Cadiente and Engr. Rogelio Jalipa jointly and severally liable for damages to the plaintiff for their own negligence as stated above, and ordering them to indemnify the plaintiff jointly and severally as follows:

(a)  P300,000.00 as compensatory damages for the permanent and almost total disability being suffered by him;

(b) P150,000.00 for moral damages;

(c) P18,982.85 as reimbursement of medical expenses;

(d) P30,000.00 for attorney's fees; and

(e) costs of suit.

SO ORDERED.[10]
On appeal, the Court of Appeals held that the findings of the trial court were in accordance with the established facts and was supported by the evidence on record. Thus, it decreed as follows:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant appeal is DENIED and the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Davao City in Civil Case No. 23723-95 is hereby AFFIRME D.

SO ORDERED.[11]
From the aforequoted decision of the Court of Appeals and the subsequent denial of the motion for reconsideration, only Cadiente appealed to this Court.

The instant petition alleges that the Court of Appeals committed serious errors of law in affirming the decision of the trial court. Petitioner Cadiente raises the following as issues:
I.

WAS THERE ... CONTRIBUTORY NEGLIGENCE ON THE PART OF THE INJURED PARTY?

II.

ARE BOTH DEFENDANT CADIENTE AND THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT JOINTLY AND SEVERALLY LIABLE TO THE INJURED PARTY?

III.

THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEAL[S] COMMIT[T]ED GRAVE LEGAL ERROR IN ORDERING DEFENDANT CADIENTE AND THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT JALIPA JOINTLY AND SEVERALLY LIABLE.[12]
Essentially, the issues to be resolved are: (1) Whether there was contributory negligence on the part of the victim; and (2) whether the petitioner and third-party defendant Jalipa are jointly and severally liable to the victim.

The petitioner contends that the victim's negligence contributed to his own mishap. The petitioner theorizes that if witness Rosalinda Palero, who was only two and a half meters away from the victim, was not hit by the Ford Fiera, then the victim must have been so negligent as to be bumped and run over by the said vehicle.[13]

The petitioner further argues that having filed a third-party complaint against Jalipa, to whom he had sold the Ford Fiera, the Court of Appeals should have ordered the latter to reimburse him for any amount he would be made to pay the victim, instead of ordering him solidarily liable for damages.[14]

The respondent, for his part, counters that the immediate and proximate cause of the injuries he suffered was the recklessly driven Ford Fiera, which was registered in the petitioner's name. He insists that when he was hit by the vehicle, he was standing on the uncemented portion of the highway, which was exactly where pedestrians were supposed to be.[15]

The respondent stresses that as the registered owner of the Ford Fiera which figured in the accident, the petitioner is primarily liable for the injury caused by the said vehicle. He maintains that the alleged sale of the vehicle to Jalipa was tainted with irregularity, which indicated collusion between the petitioner and Jalipa.[16]

After a careful consideration of the parties' submissions, we find the petition without merit.

Article 2179 of the Civil Code provides:

When the plaintiff's own negligence was the immediate and proximate cause of his injury, he cannot recover damages.  But if his negligence was only contributory, the immediate and proximate cause of the injury being the defendant's lack of due care, the plaintiff may recover damages, but the courts shall mitigate the damages to be awarded.

The underlying precept on contributory negligence is that a plaintiff who is partly responsible for his own injury should not be entitled to recover damages in full, but must proportionately bear the consequences of his own negligence. The defendant is thus held liable only for the damages actually caused by his negligence.[17]

In this case, records show that when the accident happened, the victim was standing on the shoulder, which was the uncemented portion of the highway. As noted by the trial court, the shoulder was intended for pedestrian use alone. Only stationary vehicles, such as those loading or unloading passengers may use the shoulder. Running vehicles are not supposed to pass through the said uncemented portion of the highway. However, the Ford Fiera in this case, without so much as slowing down, took off from the cemented part of the highway, inexplicably swerved to the shoulder, and recklessly bumped and ran over an innocent victim. The victim was just where he should be when the unfortunate event transpired.

Cimafranca, on the other hand, had no rightful business driving as recklessly as she did. The respondent cannot be expected to have foreseen that the Ford Fiera, erstwhile speeding along the cemented part of the highway would suddenly swerve to the shoulder, then bump and run him over. Thus, we are unable to accept the petitioner's contention that the respondent was negligent.

Coming now to the second and third issues, this Court has recently reiterated in PCI Leasing and Finance, Inc. v. UCPB General Insurance Co., Inc.,[18] that the registered owner of any vehicle, even if he had already sold it to someone else, is primarily responsible to the public for whatever damage or injury the vehicle may cause. We explained,

...Were a registered owner allowed to evade responsibility by proving who the supposed transferee or owner is, it would be easy for him, by collusion with others or otherwise, to escape said responsibility and transfer the same to an indefinite person, or to one who possesses no property with which to respond financially for the damage or injury done. A victim of recklessness on the public highways is usually without means to discover or identify the person actually causing the injury or damage. He has no means other than by a recourse to the registration in the Motor Vehicles Office to determine who is the owner. The protection that the law aims to extend to him would become illusory were the registered owner given the opportunity to escape liability by disproving his ownership.[19]

In the case of Villanueva v. Domingo,[20] we said that the policy behind vehicle registration is the easy identification of the owner who can be held responsible in case of accident, damage or injury caused by the vehicle. This is so as not to inconvenience or prejudice a third party injured by one whose identity cannot be secured.[21]

Therefore, since the Ford Fiera was still registered in the petitioner's name at the time when the misfortune took place, the petitioner cannot escape liability for the permanent injury it caused the respondent, who had since stopped schooling and is now forced to face life with nary but two remaining limbs.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED for lack of merit. The assailed Decision dated September 16, 2002 and Resolution dated December 18, 2003 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 64103 are hereby AFFIRMED. Costs against the petitioner.

SO ORDERED.

Carpio Morales, Tinga, Velasco, Jr., and Brion, JJ., concur.



[1] Rollo, pp. 23-29. Penned by Associate Justice Elvi John S. Asuncion, with Associate Justices Portia AliƱo-Hormachuelos and Juan Q. Enriquez, Jr. concurring.

[2] Id. at 30.

[3] Id. at 74-86. Penned by Judge Augusto V. Breva. Dated May 5, 1999.

[4] TSN, April 10, 1996, pp. 7-10.

[5] Records, pp. 363-364.

[6] Id. at 5-10.

[7] Id. at 73-76.

[8] Id. at 110-114.

[9] Id. at 121-123.

[10] Rollo, pp. 85-86.

[11] Id. at 29.

[12] Id. at 15.

[13] Id. at 17.

[14] Id. at 18-19.

[15] Id. at 112-113.

[16] Id. at 113-114.

[17] Lambert v. Heirs of Ray Castillon, G.R. No. 160709, February 23, 2005, 452 SCRA 285, 293.

[18] G.R. No. 162267, July 4, 2008, pp. 4-5.

[19] Id. at 5, citing Erezo, et al. v. Jepte, 102 Phil. 103 (1957).

[20] G.R. No. 144274, September 20, 2004, 438 SCRA 485.

[21] Id. at 494.

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