A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - June 26, 2019 - 12:00am

The suit for recovery of damages due to serious physical injuries sustained in a vehicular accident is based on quasi-delict (culpa aquiliana) which means any act or omission that causes damage to another there being fault or negligence (Article 2176, Civil Code). So the main questions answered in this suit are: the meaning of negligence and how it is proven; the effect of negligence of on the part of the person damaged and the liability of car owner driven by another.

This is the case of Elena, a businesswoman who operates a restaurant and two beauty salons. One early morning at around 2 a.m., while driving home together with her best friend Yana, she noticed something wrong with her tires. So she stopped at a lighted place along a main road to verify what was wrong. The people around told her that the car’s rear tire was flat and that she could not reach home. So, she parked along the sidewalk about 1-1/2 feet away, put on her emergency lights, alighted from the car, went to the rear to open the trunk and get the tools. The owner of a beerhouse across the road who introduced himself as Jerry offered to help her. Unfortunately, she was suddenly bumped by a car registered in the name of a company (ACI) and driven by Ruben its assistant manager, throwing her against the windshield of said car and causing her to fall under the car. Her left leg was severed up to the middle of her thigh with only some skin and suckle connected to the rest of her body. So she was pulled out and immediately brought to the nearest hospital where she had a traumatic amputation of the left leg up to the thigh above her knee. She was confined for twenty days and was eventually fitted with an artificial leg. The expenses for her hospital confinement and the cost of the artificial leg were paid out of the car’s insurance.

But Elena still sued Ruben and ACI to recover moral and exemplary damages and other related expenses including loss of expected earnings. She narrated the foregoing events at the trial of the case. Corroborating her story was the testimony of Jerry, the beerhouse owner who offered to help her. The police investigator also testified on the results of the investigation.

In his answer, Ruben denied that he was negligent and counterclaimed for damages alleging that it was Elena who was negligent for parking at a road where parking is not allowed. He claimed that he was on his way home after visiting a friend that early morning, driving along the inner portion of the right lane of the road at a safe speed of 55Kph considering that it was raining, visibility was affected and the road was wet. Then a car coming from the opposite direction travelling at 80kph with full bright lights temporarily blinded him. So he instinctively swerved to the right side to avoid colliding with the oncoming vehicle and bumped Elena’s car which he did not see because it was dark, with no parking lights or early warning device.  He said that he bumped left rear portion of her because it was protruding diagonally on the outer portion of the right lane. So Elena’s car swerved to the right and hit another car parked along the sidewalk.

After trial, the lower court ruled in favor of Elena and found Ruben guilty of gross negligence for driving very fast and under the influence of liquor rendering him liable for damages. It likewise held Ruben’s employer (ACI), jointly and severally liable ordering both to pay actual damages for the miscellaneous expenses of the severed left leg; unrealized profits for her restaurant and beauty salons as well as moral damages and exemplary damages and attorney’s fees.

This ruling was sustained by the Court of Appeals (CA) except that it absolved ACI from any liability and reduced the amount of moral damages and exemplary damage.

Both parties appealed the CA decision to the Supreme Court (SC). Ruben contended that he should not be held liable for damages because the proximate cause of the accident was Elena’s own negligence, and even if he may be negligent, his liability should be mitigated by the contributory negligence of Elena. On the other hand Elena contended that ACI should not have been absolved from liability and the amount of moral and actual damages should not have been reduced.

The SC ruled that only Ruben was negligent on the night of the accident. Negligence is the want of care required by the circumstances. In this case, the circumstances proven in the court below plainly demonstrate that Ruben was driving his car at a fast speed at about 2 a.m. after a heavy downpour rendering the road slippery, under the influence of liquor.

The SC also said that Elena is not guilty of contributory negligence. Contributory negligence is the conduct of the injured party contributing to the harm that she has suffered which falls below the standard to which she is required to conform for her own protection. A woman driving a vehicle suddenly crippled by a flat tire will not be faulted for stopping at a point which is both convenient for her to do so and which is not a hazard to other motorists. It will be hazardous for Elena not to stop and assess the emergency simply because the entire length of the street is a no-parking zone because the hobbling vehicle would be both a threat to her safety and to other motorists. So Elena could not have contributed to the injuries she suffered since the emergency was not of her own making and she had taken all precautions.

Ruben’s employer ACI is also jointly and severally liable for the damage for its failure to exercise the diligence of a good father of the family in the selection and supervision of its employees. It did not take the necessary steps to determine or ascertain the driving proficiency and character of Ruben to whom it gave full use of the company car (Valenzuela vs. Court of Appeals etc, G.R. 115024, February 7, 1996)

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