Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The registered owner is primarily responsible for the damage caused to the vehicle of the plaintiff-appellee, but the said registered owner has the right to be indemnified by the real or actual owner of the amount that he may be required to pay as damage




“x x x,

 “In BA Finance Corporation vs. Court of Appeals, 215 SCRA 715, we had already held that the registered owner of any vehicle, even if not for public service, is primarily responsible to third persons for deaths, injuries and damages it caused.  This is true even if the vehicle is leased to third persons. In that case, petitioner’s Isuzu ten-wheeler truck driven by an employee of a certain Lino Castro met an accident. Neither the driver nor Lino Castro was connected to petitioner, for at the time of the incident, the truck was on lease to Rock Component Philippines, Inc.  The Court held petitioner liable as the truck’s registered owner, despite the absence of employer-employee relationship between petitioner and the driver.  Though petitioner in said case had a right of reimbursement against Rock Component for the total amount of its liability, the Court per Melo, .. made clear petitioner remained legally responsible to the victim of vehicular mishap on the basis of jurisprudential dogmas.

As early as Erezo vs. Jepte, 102 Phil. 103, the Court, through Labrador, had synthesized the rationale for holding the registered owner of a vehicle directly liable.  There we said:

Registration is required not to make said registration the operative act by which ownership in vehicles is transferred, as in land registration cases, because the administrative proceeding of registration does not bear any essential relation to the contract of sale between the parties (Chinchilla vs. Rafael and Verdaguer, 39 Phil. 888), but to permit the use and operation of the vehicle upon any public highway (section 5 [a], Act No. 3992, as amended.)  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.

“One of the principal purposes of motor vehicles legislation is identification of the vehicle and of the operator, in case of accident; and another is that the knowledge that means of detection are always available may act as a deterrent from lax observance of the law and of the rules of conservative and safe operation. Whatever purpose there may be in these statutes, it is subordinate at the last to the primary purpose of rendering it certain that the violator of the law or of the rules of safety shall not escape because of lack of means to discover him.’  The purpose of the statute is thwarted, and the displayed number becomes a `snare and delusion,’ if courts would entertain such defenses as that put forward by appellee in this case.  No responsible person or corporation could be held liable for the most outrageous acts of negligence, if they should be allowed to place a `middleman’ between them and the public, and escape liability by the manner in which they recompense their servants.”  (King vs. Brenham Automobile Co., 145 S.W. 278, 279.)

With the above policy in mind, the question that defendant-appellant poses is: should not the registered owner be allowed at the trial to prove who the actual and real owner is, and in accordance with such proof escape or evade responsibility and lay the same on the person actually owning the vehicle?  We hold with the trial court that the law does not allow him to do so; the law, with its aim and policy in mind, does not relieve him directly of the responsibility that the law fixes and places upon him as an incident or consequence of registration.  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.  If the policy of the law is to be enforced and carried out, the registered owner should not be allowed to prove the contrary to the prejudice of the person injured, that is, to prove that a third person or another has become the owner, so that he may thereby be relieved of the responsibility to the injured person.

The above policy and application of the law may appear quite harsh and would seem to conflict with truth and justice.  We do not think it is so. A registered owner who has already sold or transferred a vehicle has the recourse to a third-party complaint, in the same action brought against him to recover for the damage or injury done, against the vendee or transferee of the vehicle.  The inconvenience of the suit is no justification for relieving him of liability; said inconvenience is the price he pays for failure to comply with the registration that the law demands and requires.

In synthesis, we hold that the registered owner, the defendant-appellant herein, is primarily responsible for the damage caused to the vehicle of the plaintiff-appellee, but he (defendant-appellant) has a right to be indemnified by the real or actual owner of the amount that he may be required to pay as damage for the injury caused to the plaintiff-appellant.[1]

The rationale well postulated in Erezo applies in the present case. Thus far no change in jurisprudence has been brought to our attention.  In our view, respondent bank, as the registered owner of the vehicle, is primarily liable for Aguilar, Jr.’s death.  The Court of Appeals erred when it concluded that the bank was not liable simply because (a) petitioner did not prove that Borja was acting as the bank’s vice president at the time of the accident; and (b) Borja had, according to respondent bank, already bought the car at the time of the mishap.  For as long as the respondent bank remained the registered owner of the car involved in the vehicular accident, it could not escape primary liability for the death of petitioner’s son.

X x x.”

 [1] Erezo vs. Jepte, 102 Phil. 103, 108-110 (1957).