Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Emergency Rule; Art. 2185, Civil Code (presumption negligence); Sec. 35 & 37, RA 4136, Land Transportation and Traffic Code (overspeeding, illegal overtaking).


“x x x.

On the first issue, we find and so resolve that respondent People of the Philippines was able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that petitioner Suelto swerved the bus to the right with recklessness, thereby causing damage to the terrace of private respondent’s apartment. Although she did not testify to seeing the incident as it happened, petitioner Suelto himself admitted this in his answer to the complaint in Civil Case No. Q-93-16051, and when he testified in the trial court.

Suelto narrated that he suddenly swerved the bus to the right of the road causing it to hit the column of the terrace of private respondent. Petitioners were burdened to prove that the damage to the terrace of private respondent was not the fault of petitioner Suelto.

We have reviewed the evidence on record and find that, as ruled by the trial court and the appellate court, petitioners failed to prove that petitioner acted on an emergency caused by the sudden intrusion of a passenger jeepney into the lane of the bus he was driving.

It was the burden of petitioners herein to prove petitioner Suelto’s defense that he acted on an emergency, that is, he had to swerve the bus to the right to avoid colliding with a passenger jeep coming from EDSA that had overtaken another vehicle and intruded into the lane of the bus. The sudden emergency rule was enunciated by this Court in Gan v. Court of Appeals,23 thus:

[O]ne who suddenly finds himself in a place of danger, and is required to act without time to consider the best means that may be adopted to avoid the impending danger, is not guilty of negligence if he fails to adopt what subsequently and upon reflection may appear to have been a better method unless the emergency in which he finds himself is brought about by his own negligence.

Under Section 37 of Republic Act No. 4136, as amended, otherwise known as the Land Transportation and Traffic Code, motorists are mandated to drive and operate vehicles on the right side of the road or highway:

SEC. 37. Driving on right side of highway. – Unless a different course of action is required in the interest of the safety and the security of life, person or property, or because of unreasonable difficulty of operation in compliance herewith, every person operating a motor vehicle or an animal-drawn vehicle on a highway shall pass to the right when meeting persons or vehicles coming toward him, and to the left when overtaking persons or vehicles going the same direction, and when turning to the left in going from one highway to another, every vehicle shall be conducted to the right of the center of the intersection of the highway.

Section 35 of the law provides, thus:

Sec. 35. Restriction as to speed.—(a) Any person driving a motor vehicle on a highway shall drive the same at a careful and prudent speed, not greater nor less than is reasonable and proper, having due regard for the traffic, the width of the highway, and of any other condition then and there existing; and no person shall drive any motor vehicle upon a highway at such a speed as to endanger the life, limb and property of any person, nor at a speed greater than will permit him to bring the vehicle to a stop within the assured clear distance ahead (emphasis supplied).

In relation thereto, Article 2185 of the New Civil Code provides that "unless there is proof to the contrary, it is presumed that a person driving a motor vehicle has been negligent, if at the time of mishap, he was violating any traffic regulation." By his own admission, petitioner Suelto violated the Land Transportation and Traffic Code when he suddenly swerved the bus to the right, thereby causing damage to the property of private respondent.

X x x.

As already maintained and concluded, the severe damages sustained could not have resulted had the accused acted as a reasonable and prudent man would. The accused was not diligent as he claims to be. What is more probable is that the accused had to swerve to the right and hit the commercial apartment of the plaintiff because he could not make a full stop as he was driving too fast in a usually crowded street.24

Moreover, if the claim of petitioners were true, they should have filed a third-party complaint against the driver of the offending passenger jeepney and the owner/operator thereof.

Petitioner Suelto’s reliance on the sudden emergency rule to escape conviction for the crime charged and his civil liabilities based thereon is, thus, futile.

X x x.”