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It is imperative to apply the registered-owner rule in a manner that harmonizes it with Articles 2176 and 2180 of the Civil Code. Rules must be construed in a manner that will harmonize them with other rules so as to form a uniform and consistent system of jurisprudence.

Greenstar Express Inc., is the owner of a passenger bus, driven by Fruto Sayson, which collided head on with an L-300 van, owned by Unoversal Robina and Nissin Universal Robina Corporation and driven by Renante Bicomong, NURC’s Operatons Manager, on February 25, 2003 at Km. 76, Maharlika Highway, San Agustin, Alaminos, Laguna.  As a result of the collision, Bicomong died instantly, while the passenger bus owned by Greenstar sustained damages.

Greenstar and Fruto filed a case for damages against the respondents, based on the negligence of Bicomong, an employee of the respondents.  During trial, it was established that Bicomong used the L300, a vehicle owned by the respondents, in transporting bulky material to his home, despite the fact that he himself was issued an executive car. The incident also happened on a holiday, and the employee did not use the vehicle for official company use.  Because of this, the RTC ruled in favour of the respondents and against the petitioners.  It held that “Under Article 2180, “employers shall be liable tor 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. “In other words, for the employer to be liable for the damages caused by his employee, the latter must have caused the damage in the course of doing his assigned tasks or in the-performance of his duties” (Yambao vs. Zuñiga, G.R. No: 146173, December 11, 2003)”  In this case, Bicomong was not in the performance of his duty on the day of the accident because it was a holiday; there were no plants of the company in Quezon and Laguna; the deceased was issued an executive car for his own use, and merely preferred using the L300 for transporting bulky materials to his home.  Because the accident occurred outside Remnte Bicomong’s assigned tasks, defendant employers cannot be held liable to the plaintiffs, even assuming that it is the fault of defendants’ employee that was the direct and proximate cause of their damages.

The CA affirmed the RTC judgment, thus the petitioners appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Issue:

Whether or not the respondents are liable for the negligence of their employer even though the accident occurred not in the performance of the employee’s duty to the company.

The Ruling:

The Court denies the Petition.

In Caravan Travel and Tours International, Inc. v. Abejar,⁠1 the Court made the following relevant pronouncement:

The resolution of this case must consider two (2) rules. First, Article 2180’s specification that ‘[e]mployers shall be liable for the damages caused by their employees … acting within the scope of their assigned tasks [.]’ Second, the operation of the registered-owner rule that registered owners are liable for death or injuries caused by the operation of their Vehicles.

These rules appear to be in conflict when it comes to cases in which the employer is also the registered owner of a vehicle. Article 2180 requires proof of two things: first, an employment relationship between the driver and the owner; and second, that the driver acted within the scope of his or her assigned tasks. On the other hand, applying the registered-owner rule only requires the plaintiff to prove that the defendant-employer is the registered owner of the vehicle.

The registered-owner rule was articulated as early as 1957 in Erezo, et al. v. Jepte,⁠2 where this court explained that the registration of motor vehicles, as required by Section 5(a) of Republic Act No. 41365 the  and Transportation and Traffic Code, was necessary ‘not to make said registration the operative act by which ownership in vehicles is transferred, … but to permit the use and operation of the vehicle upon any public highway[.]’ Its ‘main aim … is to identify the owner so that if any accident happens, or that any damage or injury is caused by the vehicle on the public highways, responsibility therefor can be fixed on a definite individual, the registered owner.’

x x x x

Aguilar, Sr. v. Commercial Savings Bank⁠3 recognized the seeming conflict between Article 2180 and the registered-owner rule and applied the latter.

x x x x

Preference for the registered-owner rule became more pronounced in Del Carmen, Jr. v. Bacoy:⁠4 

x x x x

Filcar Transport Services v. Espinas⁠5  stated that the registered owner of a vehicle can no longer use the defenses found in Article 2180:

x x x x

Mendoza v. Spouses Gomez⁠6  reiterated this doctrine.

However, Aguilar, Sr., Del Carmen, Filcar, and Mendoza should not be taken to mean that Article 2180 of the Civil Code should be completely discarded in cases where the registered-owner rule finds application.

As acknowledged in Filcar, there is no categorical statutory pronouncement in the Land Transportation and Traffic Code stipulating the liability of a registered owner. The source of a registered owner’s liability is not a distinct statutory provision, but remains to be Articles 2176 and 2180 of the Civil Code:

While Republic Act No. 4136 or the Land Transportation and Traffic Code does not contain any provision on the liability of registered owners in case of motor vehicle mishaps, Article 2176, in relation with Article 2180, of the Civil Code imposes an obligation upon Filcar, as registered owner, to answer for the damages caused to Espinas’ car.

Thus, it is imperative to apply the registered-owner rule in a manner that harmonizes it with Articles 2176 and 2180 of the Civil Code. Rules must be construed in a manner that will harmonize them with other rules so as to form a uniform and consistent system of jurisprudence. In light of this, the words used in Del Carmen are particularly notable. There, this court stated that Article 2180 ‘should defer to’ the registered-owner rule. It never stated that Article 2180 should be totally abandoned.

Therefore, the appropriate approach is that in cases where both the registered-owner rule and Article 2180 apply, the plaintiff must first establish that the employer is the registered owner of the vehicle in question. Once the plaintiff successfully proves ownership, there arises a disputable presumption that the requirements of Article 2180 have been proven. As a consequence, the burden of proof shifts to the defendant to show that no liability under Article 2180 has arisen.

This disputable presumption, insofar as the registered owner of the vehicle in relation to the actual driver is concerned, recognizes that between the owner and the victim, it is the former that should carry the costs of moving forward with the evidence. The victim is, in many cases, a hapless pedestrian or motorist with hardly any means to uncover the employment relationship of the owner and the driver, or any act that the owner may have done in relation to that employment.

The registration of the vehicle, on the other hand, is accessible to the public.

Here, respondent presented a copy of the Certificate of Registration of the van that hit Reyes. The Certificate attests to petitioner’s ownership of the van. Petitioner itself did not dispute its ownership of the van. Consistent with the rule we have just stated, a presumption that the requirements of Article 2180 have been satisfied arises. It is now up to petitioner to establish that it incurred no liability under Article 2180. This it can do by presenting proof of any of the following: first, that it had no employment relationship with Bautista; second, that Bautista acted outside the scope of his assigned tasks; or third, that it exercised the diligence of a good father of a family in the selection and supervision of Bautista. (Emphasis supplied)

In the present case, it has been established that on the day of the collision -or on February 25, 2003 – URC was the registered owner of the URC van, although it appears that it was designated for use by NURC, as it was officially assigned to the latter’s Logistics Manager, Florante Soro-Soro (Soro-Soro); that Bicomong was the Operations Manager of NURC and assigned to the First Cavite Industrial Estate; that there was no work as the day was declared a national holiday; that Bicomong was on his way home to his family in Quezon province; that the URC van was not assigned to Bicompng as well, but solely for Soro-Soro’s official use; that the company service vehicle officially assigned to Bicomong was a Toyota Corolla, which he left at the Cavite plant and instead, he used the URC van; and that other than the Cavite plant, there is no other NURC plant in the provinces of Quezon, Laguna or Bicol.

Applying the above pronouncement in the Caravan Travel and Tours case, it must be said that when by evidence the ownership of the van and Bicomong’s employment were proved, the presumption of negligence on respondents’ part attached, as the registered owner of the van. and as Bicomong’s employer. Hie burden of proof then shifted to respondents to show that no liability under Article 2180 arose. This may be done by proof of any of the following:

  1. That they had no employment relationship with Bicomong; or

  2. That Bicomong acted outside the scope of his assigned tasks; or

  3. That they exercised the diligence of a good father of a family in the selection and supervision of Bicomong.

In denying liability, respondents claimed in their respective answers the defense of absence of negligence on their part. During trial, they presented evidence to the effect that on the day of the collision, which was a declared national non-working holiday, Bicomong was not perforating Ms work, but was on his way home to Quezon on a personal undertaking, that is, to give money to his daughter and spend the holiday with his family; and that the vehicle he was driving was not an NURC vehicle, nor was it assigned to him, but was registered to URC and assigned to its Logistics Manager, Soro-Soro, Petitioners object to this, claiming that this defense was not alleged in the respondents’ respective answers. The Court disagrees, The failure to allege these facts in the answers does not preclude, respondents from proving them during trial; these facts are precisely illustrative of their defense of absence of negligence. Just the same, petitioners’ failure to object to the respondents’ presentation of such evidence below is tantamount to a waiver; Section 5, Rule 10 of the 1997 Rules – on amendments to conform to or authorize presentation of evidence – will have to apply, but the failure to amend the pleadings does not affect the result of the trial of these issues.

The failure of a party to amend a pleading to conform to the evidence adduced during trial does not preclude an adjudication by the court on the basis of such evidence which may embody new issues not raised in the pleadings, or serve as a basis for a higher award of damages. Although the pleading may not have been amended to conform to the evidence submitted during trial, judgment may nonetheless be rendered, not simply on the basis of the issues alleged but also on the basis of issues discussed and the assertions of fact proved in the course of trial. The court may treat the pleading as if it had been amended to conform to the evidence, although it had not been actually so amended, x x x⁠7 

Respondents succeeded in overcoming the presumption of negligence, having shown that when the collision took place, Bicomong was not in the performance of his work; that he was in possession of a service vehicle that did not belong to his employer NURC, but to URC, and which vehicle was not officially assigned to him, but to another employee; that his use of the URC van was unauthorized – even if he had used the same vehicle in furtherance of a personal undertaking in the past,⁠8  this does not amount to implied permission; that the accident occurred on a holiday and while Bicomong was on his way home to his family in Quezon province; and that Bicomong had no official business whatsoever in his hometown in Quezon, or in Laguna where the collision occurred, his area of operations being limited to the Cavite area.

On the other hand, the evidence suggests that the collision could have been avoided if Sayson exercised care and prudence, given the circumstances and information that he had immediately prior to the accident. From the trial court’s findings and evidence on record, it would appear that immediately prior to the collision, which took place very early in the morning – or at around 6:50 a.m., Sayson saw that the URC van was traveling fast Quezon-bound on the shoulder of the opposite lane about 250 meters away from him; that at this point, Sayson was driving the Greenstar bus Manila-bound at 60 kilometers per hour; that Sayson knew that the URC van was traveling fast as it was creating dust clouds from traversing the shoulder of the opposite lane; that Sayson saw the URC van get back into its proper lane but directly toward him; that despite being apprised of the foregoing information, Sayson, instead of slowing down, maintained his speed and tried to swerve the Greenstar bus, but found it difficult to do so at his speed; that the collision or point of impact occurred right in the middle of the road;⁠9  and that Sayson absconded from the scene immediately after the collision.

From the foregoing facts, one might think that from the way he was driving immediately before the collision took place, Bicomong could have fallen asleep or ill at the wheel, which led him to gradually steer the URC van toward the shoulder of the highway; and to get back to the road after realizing his mistake, Bicomong must have overreacted, thus overcompensating or oversteering to the left, or toward the opposite lane and right into Sayson’s bus. Given the premise of dozing off or falling ill, this explanation is not far-fetched. The collision occurred very early in the morning in Alaminos, Laguna. Sayson himself testified that he found Bicomong driving on the service road or shoulder of the highway 250 meters away, which must have been unpaved, as it caused dust clouds to rise on the heels of the URC van. And these dust clouds stole Sayson’s attention, leading him to conclude that the van was running at high speed. At any rate, the evidence places the point of impact very near the middle of the road or just within Sayson’s lane. In other words, the collision took place with Bicomong barely encroaching on Sayson’s lane. This means that prior to and at the time of collision, Sayson did not take any defensive maneuver to prevent the accident and minimize the impending damage to life and property, which resulted in the collision in the middle of the highway, where a vehicle would normally be traversing. If Sayson took defensive measures, the point of impact should have occurred further inside his lane or not at the front of the bus – but at its side, which should have shown that Sayson either slowed down or swerved to the right to avoid a collision.

Despite having seen Bicomong drive the URC van in a precarious manner while the same was still a good 250 meters away from his bus, Sayson did not take the necessary precautions, as by reducing speed and adopting a defensive stance to avert any untoward incident that may occur from Bicomong’s manner of driving. This is precisely his testimony during trial. When the van began to swerve toward his bus, he did not reduce speed nor swerve his bus to avoid collision. Instead, he maintained his current speed and course, and for this reason., the inevitable took place: An experienced driver who is. presented with the same facts would have adopted an attitude consistent with a desire to preserve life and property; for common carriers, the diligence demanded is of the highest degree.

The law exacts from common carriers (i.e., those persons, corporations, firms, or associations engaged in the business of carrying or transporting passengers or goods or both, by land, water, or air, for compensation, offering their services to the public) the highest degree of diligence (i.e., extraordinary diligence) in ensuring the safety of its passengers. Articles 1733 and 1755 of the Civil Code state:

Art. 1733. Common carriers, from the nature of their business and for reasons of public policy, are bound to observe extraordinary, diligence in the vigilance over the goods and for the safety of the passengers transported by them, according to all the circumstances of each case.

Art. 1755. A common carrier is bound to carry the passengers safely as far as human care arid foresight can provide, using the utmost diligence of very cautious persons, with a due regard for all the circumstances.

In this relation, Article 1756 of the Civil Code provides that ‘[i]n case of death of or injuries to passengers, common carriers are presumed to have been at fault or to have acted negligently, unless they prove that they observed extraordinary diligence as prescribed in Articles 1733 and 1755. xxx’⁠10 

However, Sayson took no defensive maneuver whatsoever in spite of the fact that he saw Bicomong drive his van in a precarious manner, as far as 250 meters away – or at a point in time and space where Sayson had all the opportunity to prepare and avert a possible collision. The collision was certainly foreseen and avoidable but Sayson took no measures to avoid it. Rather than exhibit concern for the welfare of his passengers and the driver of the oncoming vehicle, who might have fallen asleep or suddenly fallen ill at the wheel, Sayson coldly and uncaringly stood his ground^ closed his eyes, and left everything to fate, without due regard for the consequences. Such a suicidal mindset cannot be tolerated, for the grave danger it poses to the public and passengers availing of petitioners’ services. To add insult to injury, Sayson hastily fled the scene of the collision instead of rendering assistance to the victims – thus exhibiting a selfish, cold-blooded attitude and utter lack of concern motivated by the self-centered desire to escape liability, inconvenience, and possible detention by the authorities, rather than secure the well-being of the victims of his own negligent act.

x x x The doctrine of last clear chance provides that where both parties are negligent but the negligent act of one is appreciably later in point of time than that of the other, or where it is impossible to determine whose fault or negligence brought about the occurrence of the incident, the one who had the last clear opportunity to avoid the impending harm but failed to do so, is chargeable with the consequences arising therefrom. Stated differently, the rule is that the antecedent negligence of a person does not preclude recovery of damages caused by the supervening negligence of the latter, who had the last fair chance to prevent the impending harm by the exercise of due diligence, x x x⁠11 

Petitioners might object to the treatment of their case in the foregoing manner, what with the additional finding that Sayson was negligent under the circumstances. But their Petition,  “once accepted by this Court, throws the entire case open to review, and xxx this Court has the authority to review matters not specifically raised or assigned as error by the parties, if their consideration is necessary in arriving at a just resolution of the case.”⁠12 

WHEREFORE, the Petition is DENIED. The September 26, 2012 Decision and December 28, 2012 Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 96961 are AFFIRMED in toto. 

SO ORDERED.

DEL CASTILLO, J.:

Carpio, (Chairperson), Brion, and Mendoza, JJ., concur.

Leonen, J., on official leave,

SECOND DIVISION, G.R. No. 205090, October 17, 2016, GREENSTAR EXPRESS, INC. AND FRUTO L. SAYSON, JR., PETITIONERS, VS. UNIVERSAL ROBINA CORPORATION AND NISSIN UNIVERSAL ROBINA CORPORATION, RESPONDENTS.

 

1 G.R. No. 170631, February 10,2016.

2 102 Phil. 103 (1957).

3 412 Phil. 834(2001).

4 686 Phil. 799 (2012).

5 688 Phil. 430 (2012).

6 736 Phil. 460 (2014).

7 Philippine National Bank v. Manalo, G.R, No. 174433, February 24, 2014, 717 SCRA 254, citing Talisay-Silay Milling Co., Inc. v. Association de Agricultomsde Talisay-SHay, Inc., 317 Phil. 432, 452-453 (1995).

8 His wife testified that in the past he had used the same vehicle in getting home to Quezon.

9 Rollo, p. 162; Police Sketch of the collision, petitioners’ Exhibit “D-2,” admitted in evidence.

10 G.V. Florida Transport, Inc. v. Heirs of Battling, Jr., G.R. No. 208802, October 14,2015.

11 Philippine National Railways Corporation v. Vizcara, 682 Phil. 343, 358 (2012), citing Canlas v. Court of Appeals, 383 Phil. 315, 324 (2000), citing Philippine Bank of Commerce v. Court of Appeals, 336 Phil. 667, 680 (1997), citing ISC Air Cargo, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 311 Phil. 715, 722-724 (1995); Picart v. Smith, 37 Phil. 809, 814 (1918); Pantranco North Express, Inc. v. Baesa, 258-A Phil. 975, 980 (1989); Glan Peoples Lumber and Hardware v. Intermediate Appellate Court, 255 Phil. 447, 456-457 (1989).

12 Barcelona v. Lim, 734 Phil. 766 795 (2014); Carvajal v. Luzon Development Bank, 692 Phil. 273, 282 (2012).

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