Thursday, May 10, 2012

Negligence is presumed under res ipsa loquitur - G.R. No. 173870

G.R. No. 173870

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Petitioner’s own evidence casts doubt on his claim that his jeep was stolen by Allan and his alleged cohorts.  Negligence is presumed under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. 

            Oscar Jr.’s core defense to release him from responsibility for the death of the Monsaluds is that his jeep was stolen.  He highlights that the unauthorized taking of the jeep from the parking area was indeed carried out by the clandestine and concerted efforts of Allan and his five companions, notwithstanding the obstacles surrounding the parking area and the weight of the jeep.

Notably, the carnapping case filed against Allan and his group was already dismissed by the RTC for insufficiency of evidence.  But even in this civil case and as correctly concluded by the CA, the evidentiary standard of preponderance of evidence required was likewise not met to support Oscar Jr.’s claim that his jeep was unlawfully taken.

Two of Allan’s co-accused in the carnapping case, Jemar and Benjamin, declared before the police that when Allan invited them to ride with him, he was already driving the jeep:

04.  Q-   On that night, on or about 11:30 o’clock on December 31, 1992, where were you?
        A-   I went to the disco near [the] Public Market[,] Sominot, Zamboanga del Sur.

05.  Q-   While you were in disco place, do you know if there was an incident [that] happened?
        A-   No sir but when I was in the disco place, at about 3:30 at dawn more or less[,] January 1, 1993, Allan Maglasang arrived driving the jeep and he invited me to ride together with Benjamin Andujar, Dioscoro Sol, Arniel Rezada and Joven Orot.[34]

x x x x

04.  Q-   On that night, on or about 9:00 o’clock in the evening more or less on December 31, 1992, where were you?
        A-   I went to the disco at [the] Public Market[,] Sominot, Zamboanga del Sur.
05.  Q-   While you were in the disco place, do you know if there was an incident [that] happened?
        A-   No, sir, but when I was in the disco place, at about 3:30 at dawn more or less[,] January 1, 1993, Allan Maglasang arrive[d] driving the jeep and he invited me to ride together with Jemar Alarcon, Dioscoro Sol, Arniel Rizada and Joven Orot.[35]

                There were six accused in the carnapping case.  If Jemar and Benjamin were fetched by Allan who was driving the jeep, this would mean that only three men pushed the jeep contrary to Rodrigo’s testimony in Criminal Case No. 93-10380 that it has to be pushed by at least five people so that it could start without the ignition key.

            On direct examination,[36] Oscar Jr. was asked as to what Rodrigo, his driver who had informed him about the accident on January 1, 1993 at around 7:00 a.m., turned over to him after the incident, viz:

Q:           When Rodrigo Maglasang, your driver informed you about the accident, what did he carry with him if any and turned over to you?
A:           The OR (Official Receipt) and the CR (Certificate of Registration) Sir.

Q:           How about the key of the vehicle?
A:           It was not turned over, Sir.[37]

                Assuming arguendo that Allan stole the jeep by having the same pushed by a group, the ignition key should then be with Rodrigo as he was entrusted with the jeep’s possession.  Thus, at the time Rodrigo faced his employer hours after the incident, it is reasonable to expect that the driver should have also returned the key to the operator together with the Official Receipt and Certificate of Registration.  Notably, Rodrigo did not do so and instead, the key was allegedly handed over to the police for reasons unexplained and not available from the records. Interestingly, Oscar Jr. never presented Rodrigo as his witness.  Neither was he able to attest on cross-examination that Allan really stole the jeep by pushing or that the key was handed over to him by Rodrigo:

Q:           On December 31, 1992, you did not know that it was Rodrigo Maglasang who gave the key to Allan Maglasang.  Is that correct?
A:           I was not there.  So, I do not know but he had an affidavit to show that he turned it over to the police.
Q:           What I was asking you is that, [o]n the night of December 31, 1992, when it was driven by Allan Maglasang, you did not know that the key was voluntarily given by Rodrigo Maglasang to Allan Maglasang?
A:           I was not there.

Q:           So, you could not testify on that, is that correct?      
A:           Yes Sir, I was not there.[38]

Furthermore, Oscar Jr. acknowledged the dismissal of the carnapping case, thus:

Q:           Now, there was a case filed against Allan Maglasang and [his] x x x co-accused x x x  [n]amely: Benjamin Andojar, Dioscoro Sol, Joven Orot, [Jemar Azarcon] and [Arniel] Rizada, for carnapping.  Is that correct?
A:           Yes Sir.

Q:           That case was filed by you because you alleged that on December 31, 1992, your jeep was carnapped by Allan Maglasang and his co-accused, the said mentioned, is that correct?
A:           Yes Sir.

Q:           You testified on the case in Aurora, is that correct?
A:           Yes, Sir.

Q:           And you could well remember that this representation is the counsel of the co-accused of Allan Maglasang, is that correct?
A:           Yes Sir.

Q:           And that case for carnapping was dismissed, is that correct?
A:           Yes Sir.

Q:           Even the case of Allan Maglasang, was also dismissed, is that correct
A:           Yes Sir.

Q:           Because there was no sufficient evidence to establish that the jeep was carnapped, is that correct?
A:           Yes Sir.[39]

While Oscar Jr. highlights that the headlights were not on to support his claim that his jeep was stolen, this circumstance by itself will not prove that it really was stolen.  The reason why the headlights were not on at the time of the accident was not sufficiently established during the trial.  Besides, the fact that the headlights were not on cannot be exclusively attributed to the lack of ignition key in starting the jeep as there may be other possibilities such as electrical problems, broken headlights, or that they were simply turned off.       

Hence, sans the testimony of witnesses and other relevant evidence to support the defense of unauthorized taking, we cannot subscribe to Oscar Jr.’s claim that his jeep was stolen.  The evidence on record brings forth more questions than clear-cut answers.    

            Oscar Jr. alleges that the presumption of negligence under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur (literally, the thing speaks for itself) should not have been applied because he was vigilant in securing his vehicle.  He claims that the jeep was parked in a well secured area not remote to the watchful senses of its driver Rodrigo. 

Under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, “[w]here the thing that caused the injury complained of is shown to be under the management of the defendant or his servants; and the accident, in the ordinary course of things, would not happen if those who had management or control used proper care, it affords reasonable evidence – in the absence of a sufficient, reasonable and logical explanation by defendant – that the accident arose from or was caused by the defendant’s want of care.”[40]  Res ipsa loquitur is “merely evidentiary, a mode of proof, or a mere procedural convenience, since it furnishes a substitute for, and relieves a plaintiff of, the burden of producing a specific proof of negligence.”[41]  It “recognizes that parties may establish prima facie negligence without direct proof, thus, it allows the principle to substitute for specific proof of negligence.  It permits the plaintiff to present along with proof of the accident, enough of the attending circumstances to invoke the doctrine, create an inference or presumption of negligence and thereby place on the defendant the burden of proving that there was no negligence on his part.”[42]  The doctrine is based partly on “the theory that the defendant in charge of the instrumentality which causes the injury either knows the cause of the accident or has the best opportunity of ascertaining it while the plaintiff has no such knowledge, and is therefore compelled to allege negligence in general terms.”[43]

The requisites of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur as established by jurisprudence are as follows:

1)    the accident is of a kind which does not ordinarily occur unless someone is negligent;

2)    the cause of the injury was under the exclusive control of the person in charge and

3)    the injury suffered must not have been due to any voluntary action or contribution on the part of the person injured.[44]

The above requisites are all present in this case.  First, no person just walking  along the  road  would  suddenly  be  sideswiped  and  run over by an on-rushing vehicle unless the one in charge of the said vehicle had been negligent.  Second, the jeep which caused the injury was under the exclusive control of Oscar Jr. as its owner.   When Oscar Jr. entrusted the ignition key to Rodrigo, he had the power to instruct him with regard to the specific restrictions of the jeep’s use, including who or who may not drive it.  As he is aware that the jeep may run without the ignition key, he also has the responsibility to park it safely and securely and to instruct his driver Rodrigo to observe the same precaution. Lastly, there was no showing that the death of the victims was due to any voluntary action or contribution on their part.
The aforementioned requisites having been met, there now arises a presumption of negligence against Oscar Jr. which he could have overcome by evidence that he exercised due care and diligence in preventing strangers from using his jeep.  Unfortunately, he failed to do so.

What this Court instead finds worthy of credence is the CA’s conclusion that Oscar Jr. gave his implied permission for Allan to use the jeep.  This is in view of Oscar Jr.’s failure to provide solid proof that he ensured that the parking area is well secured and that he had expressly imposed restrictions as to the use of the jeep when he entrusted the same to his driver Rodrigo.   As fittingly inferred by the CA, the jeep could have been endorsed to Allan by his brother Rodrigo since as already mentioned, Oscar Jr. did not give Rodrigo any specific and strict instructions on matters regarding its use.  Rodrigo therefore is deemed to have been given the absolute discretion as to the vehicle’s operation, including the discretion to allow his brother Allan to use it.                    
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