Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Reckless imprudence; proximate cause; contributory negligence

SABINIANO DUMAYAG vs. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, G.R. No. 172778,  November 26, 2012

“x x x.

Reckless imprudence, as defined by our penal law, consists in voluntarily, but without malice, doing or failing to do an act from which material damage results by reason of inexcusable lack of precaution on the part of the person performing or failing to perform such act, taking into consideration his employment or occupation, degree of intelligence, physical condition and other circumstances regarding persons, time and place.22 In order to establish a motorist’s liability for the negligent operation of a vehicle, it must be shown that there was a direct causal connection between such negligence and the injuries or damages complained of.23 Thus, to constitute the offense of reckless driving, the act must be something more than a mere negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle, and a willful and wanton disregard of the consequences is required.24

After going over the records of this case, the Court is unable to sustain the findings of fact and conclusion reached by the courts below. The totality of the evidence shows that the proximate cause of the collision was the reckless negligence of the tricycle driver, who hastily overtook another vehicle while approaching a blind curve, in violation of traffic laws.

Proximate cause is defined as that cause, which, in natural and continuous sequence, unbroken by any efficient intervening cause, produces the injury, and without which the result would not have occurred. And more comprehensively, the proximate legal cause is that acting first and producing the injury, either immediately or by setting other events in motion, all constituting a natural and continuous chain of events, each having a close causal connection with its immediate predecessor, the final event in the chain immediately effecting the injury as a natural and probable result of the cause which first acted, under such circumstances that the person responsible for the first event should, as an ordinary prudent and intelligent person, have reasonable ground to expect at the moment of his act or default that an injury to some person might probably result therefrom.25

The evidence indubitably shows that before the collision, the passenger bus was cruising along its rightful lane when the tricycle coming from the opposite direction suddenly swerved and encroached on its lane. The accident would not have happened had Genayas, the tricycle driver, stayed on his lane and did not recklessly try to overtake another vehicle while approaching a blind curve. Section 37 of R.A. No. 4136, as amended, mandates all motorists to drive and operate vehicles on the right side of the road or highway. When overtaking another, it should be made only if the highway is clearly visible and is free from oncoming vehicle. Overtaking while approaching a curve in the highway, where the driver’s view is obstructed, is not allowed.26 Corollarily, drivers of automobiles, when overtaking another vehicle, are charged with a high degree of care and diligence to avoid collision. The obligation rests upon him to see to it that vehicles coming from the opposite direction are not taken unaware by his presence on the side of the road upon which they have the right to pass.27

The MTC opined that the accident could have been avoided or damage or injuries could only be slight and manageable, if the speed of the passenger bus was commensurate with the demands of the circumstances and the condition of the road. The Court, however, cannot subscribe to the conclusion that petitioner was driving fast and without regard to the condition of the road at the time of the collision.

The testimony of Cagakit that the passenger bus was running fast at the time of the collision lacks probative value. The actual speed of the bus was not established because he merely stated that when the tricycle was trying to overtake the Mitsubishi pick-up, a fast moving vehicle hit it. Also, it was not indubitably shown that petitioner was driving at a speed beyond the rate allowed by law.28 In a similar case, Vallacar Transit, Inc. v. Catubig,29 the Court, in adopting the conclusion of the RTC, wrote:

Based on the evidence on record, it is crystal clear that the immediate and proximate cause of the collision is the reckless and negligent act of Quintin Catubig, Jr. and not because the Ceres Bus was running very fast. Even if Ceres Bus is running very fast on its lane, it could not have caused the collision if not for the fact that Quintin Catubig, Jr. tried to overtake a cargo truck and encroached on the lane traversed by the Ceres Bus while approaching a curve. As the driver of the motorcycle, Quintin Catubig, Jr. has not observed reasonable care and caution in driving his motorcycle which an ordinary prudent driver would have done under the circumstances. Recklessness on the part of Quintin Catubig, Jr. is evident when he tried to overtake a cargo truck while approaching a curve in Barangay Donggo-an, Bolisong, Manjuyod, Negros Oriental.

x x x.

Furthermore, it was undisputed that the tricycle was overloaded, with a total of eight (8) passengers (excluding the driver), which is a clear violation of traffic rules and regulation. It was likewise admitted by the owner of the tricycle, Beethoven Bernabe (Bernabe), that his driver violated the conditions specified in the tricycle franchise which prohibited all tricycles to travel along the national highway. In fact, he admitted that Genayas was only the alternate driver of his son and that he did not interview him anymore when he applied as a company driver because he was a neighbor and a nephew of his wife. For said reason, the award of damages to Bernabe by the courts below has no justifiable basis.
The immediate and proximate cause being the reckless and imprudent act of the tricycle driver, petitioner should be acquitted. Nevertheless, he is civilly liable. The rule is that an "acquittal of the accused, even if based on a finding that he is not guilty, does not carry with it the extinction of the civil liability based on quasi delict."30

Under the proven circumstances, there was contributory negligence on the part of petitioner. It is to be noted that there were two blind curves along the national highway. Having travelled along it for the past 20 years, he was aware of the blind curves and should have taken precaution in operating the passenger bus as it approached them. In the situation at hand, he did not exercise the necessary precaution. After negotiating the first curve, he claimed to have stepped on the accelerator pedal because his lane was clear. According to SPO2 Patalinghug, he found skid marks produced by the passenger bus. It could only mean that petitioner had slammed on the brake brought about by the sudden emergence of the tricycle in front of him. Notwithstanding, it was still short of reckless or criminal negligence as he was driving along his rightful lane.

Considering that the proximate cause was the negligence of the tricycle driver and that negligence on the part of petitioner was only contributory, there is a need to mitigate the amounts of the civil liability imposed on the latter. The determination of the mitigation of the civil liability varies depending on the circumstances of each case.31 The Court allowed the reduction of 50% in Rakes v. Atlantic Gulf & Pacific Co.,32 20% in Phoenix Construction, Inc. v. IAC33 and LBC Air Cargo, Inc. v. CA, 34 and 40% in Bank of the Philippine Islands v. CA 35 and Philippine Bank of Commerce v. CA.36

In this case, a reduction of 50% of the actual damages is deemed equitable considering that the negligence of the tricycle driver was the proximate cause of the accident and that of petitioner was merely contributory. Moreover, under the circumstances, petitioner cannot be made liable for moral and exemplary damages for lack of basis. The award of attorney's fees is not warranted either.

X x x.”

18 Section 41. Restrictions on overtaking and passing.
(a) The driver of a vehicle shall not drive to the left side of the center line of a highway in overtaking or passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction, unless such left side is clearly visible, and is free of oncoming traffic for a sufficient distance ahead to permit such overtaking or passing to be made in safety.
(b) The driver of a vehicle shall not overtake or pass another vehicle proceeding in the same direction, when approaching the crest of a grade, not upon a curve in the highway, where the driver's view along the highway is obstructed within a distance of five hundred feet ahead, except on a highway having two or more lanes for movement of traffic in one direction where the driver of a vehicle may overtake or pass another vehicle: Provided, That on a highway within a business or residential district, having two or more lanes for movement of traffic in one direction, the driver of a vehicle may overtake or pass another vehicle on the right.
20 Lambert v. Heirs of Ray Castillon, 492 Phil. 384, 389 (2005).
21 Estacion v. Bernardo, 518 Phil. 388, 398-399 (2006).
22 Art. 365, Revised Penal Code.
23 Gaid v. People, G.R. No. 171636, April 7, 2009, 584 SCRA 489, 498-499.
24 Caminos, Jr. v. People, G.R. No. 147437, May 8, 2009, 587 SCRA 348, 357.
25 Vallacar Transit v. Catubig, G.R. No. 175512, May 30, 2011, 649 SCRA 281, 295-296.
26 Section 41 (a) (b) of Republic Act No. 4136.
27 United States v. Crame, Separate Opinion, 30 Phil. 2, 21-22 (1915).
28 Republic Act No. 4136, Section 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.
(b) Subject to the provisions of the preceding paragraph, the rate of speed of any motor vehicle shall not exceed the following:

Cars and Motorcycle

Motor trucks and buses
1. On open country roads, with no
"blinds corners" not closely bordered by
80 km. per hour
50 km. per hour
2. On "through streets" or boulevards,
clear of traffic, with no " blind corners,"
when so designated.
40 km. per hour
30 km. per hour
3. On city and municipal streets, with
light traffic, when not designated
"through streets".
30 km. per hour
30 km. per hour
4. Through crowded streets,
approaching intersections at "blind
corners," passing school zones, passing
other vehicles which are stationery, or
for similar dangerous circumstances.
20 km. per hour
20 km. per hour

30 Heirs of Late Guaring, Jr. v. Court of Appeals, 336 Phil. 274, 279 (1997).
31 Lambert v. Heirs of Ray Castillon, supra note 17, at 392.
32 7 Phil. 359 (1907).
33 232 Phil. 327 (1987).
34 311 Phil. 715 (1995).
35 G.R. No. 102383, November 26, 1992, 216 SCRA 51,
36 336 Phil. 667 (1997).