Thursday, May 10, 2012

Motor vehicles; liability of registered owner and operator on record - G.R. No. 173870

G.R. No. 173870

"x x x.

The operator on record of a vehicle is primarily responsible to third persons for the deaths or injuries consequent to its operation, regardless of whether the employee drove the registered owner’s vehicle in connection with his employment.

Without  disputing  the  factual finding  of  the CA  that Allan  was  still  his
employee at the time of the accident, a finding which we see no reason to disturb, Oscar Jr. contends that Allan drove the jeep in his private capacity and thus, an employer’s vicarious liability for the employee’s fault under Article 2180 of the Civil Code cannot apply to him. 

The contention is no longer novel.  In Aguilar Sr. v. Commercial Savings Bank,[45] the car of therein respondent bank caused the death of Conrado Aguilar, Jr. while being driven by its assistant vice president.  Despite Article 2180, we still held the bank liable for damages for the accident as said provision should defer to the settled doctrine concerning accidents involving registered motor vehicles, i.e., that the registered owner of any vehicle, even if not used for public service, would primarily be responsible to the public or to third persons for injuries caused the latter while the vehicle was being driven on the highways or streets.[46]  We have already ratiocinated that:

The main aim of motor vehicle registration 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. Instances are numerous where vehicles running on public highways caused accidents or injuries to pedestrians or other vehicles without positive identification of the owner or drivers, or with very scant means of identification. It is to forestall these circumstances, so inconvenient or prejudicial to the public, that the motor vehicle registration is primarily ordained, in the interest of the determination of persons responsible for damages or injuries caused on public highways.[47]

Absent the circumstance of unauthorized use[48] or that the subject vehicle was stolen[49] which are valid defenses available to a registered owner, Oscar Jr. cannot escape liability for quasi-delict resulting from his jeep’s use.

All told and considering that the amounts of damages awarded are in accordance with prevailing jurisprudence, the Court concurs with the findings of the CA and sustains the awards made.  In addition, pursuant to Eastern Shipping Lines, Inc. v. Court of Appeals,[50] an interest of six percent (6%) per annum on the amounts awarded shall be imposed, computed from the time the judgment of the RTC is rendered on April 17, 2000 and twelve percent (12%) per annum on such amount upon finality of this Decision until the payment thereof.

x x x."