Filcar Transport Services vs. Jose A. Espinas G.R. No. 174156, June 20, 2012

FACTS:

Respondent Jose A. Espinas was driving his car along Leon Guinto Street in Manila when he was suddenly hit by another car. Upon verifying with the LTO, Espinas learned that the owner of the other car is Filcar. This car was assigned to Filcar’s Corporate Secretary Atty. Candido Flor and, at the time of the incident, was driven by Atty. Flor’s personal driver, Timoteo Floresca.

Espinas sued Filcar for damages. Filcar denied liability, claiming that the incident was not due to its fault or negligence since Floresca was not its employee but that of Atty. Flor.

ISSUE: Whether or not Filcar, as registered owner of the motor vehicle which figured in an accident, may be held liable for the damages caused to the Espinas

HELD:

Filcar, as registered owner, is deemed the employer of the driver, Floresca, and is thus vicariously liable under Article 2176 in relation with Article 2180 of the Civil Code

It is undisputed that Filcar is the registered owner of the motor vehicle which hit and caused damage to Espinas’ car. It is on this basis that Filcar is primarily and directly liable to Espinas for damages.

As a general rule, one is only responsible for his own act or omission. Thus, a person will generally be held liable only for the torts committed by himself and not by another. This general rule is laid down in Article 2176 of the Civil Code, which provides to wit:

Article 2176. Whoever by act or omission causes damage to another, there being fault or negligence, is obliged to pay for the damage done. Such fault or negligence, if there is no pre-existing contractual relation between the parties, is called a quasi-delict and is governed by the provisions of this Chapter.

Based on the above-cited article, the obligation to indemnify another for damage caused by one’s act or omission is imposed upon the tortfeasor himself, i.e., the person who committed the negligent act or omission. The law, however, provides for exceptions when it makes certain persons liable for the act or omission of another.

One exception is an employer who is made vicariously liable for the tort committed by his employee. Article 2180 of the Civil Code states:

Article 2180. The obligation imposed by Article 2176 is demandable not only for one’s own acts or omissions, but also for those of persons for whom one is responsible.

x x x x

Employers shall be liable for the damages caused by their employees and household helpers acting within the scope of their assigned tasks, even though the former are not engaged in any business or industry.

x x x x

The responsibility treated of in this article shall cease when the persons herein mentioned prove that they observed all the diligence of a good father of a family to prevent damage.

Under Article 2176, in relation with Article 2180, of the Civil Code, an action predicated on an employee’s act or omission may be instituted against the employer who is held liable for the negligent act or omission committed by his employee.

Although the employer is not the actual tortfeasor, the law makes him vicariously liable on the basis of the civil law principle of pater familias for failure to exercise due care and vigilance over the acts of one’s subordinates to prevent damage to another. In the last paragraph of Article 2180 of the Civil Code, the employer may invoke the defense that he observed all the diligence of a good father of a family to prevent damage.

It is well settled that in case of motor vehicle mishaps, the registered owner of the motor vehicle is considered as the employer of the tortfeasor-driver, and is made primarily liable for the tort committed by the latter under Article 2176, in relation with Article 2180, of the Civil Code.

In so far as third persons are concerned, the registered owner of the motor vehicle is the employer of the negligent driver, and the actual employer is considered merely as an agent of such owner.

Thus, it is clear that for the purpose of holding the registered owner of the motor vehicle primarily and directly liable for damages under Article 2176, in relation with Article 2180, of the Civil Code, the existence of an employer-employee relationship, as it is understood in labor relations law, is not required. It is sufficient to establish that Filcar is the registered owner of the motor vehicle causing damage in order that it may be held vicariously liable under Article 2180 of the Civil Code.

Rationale for holding the registered owner vicariously liable

The rationale for the rule that a registered owner is vicariously liable for damages caused by the operation of his motor vehicle is explained by the principle behind motor vehicle registration, viz:

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.

Employer-employee relationship between registered owner and driver is irrelevant

Thus, whether there is an employer-employee relationship between the registered owner and the driver is irrelevant in determining the liability of the registered owner who the law holds primarily and directly responsible for any accident, injury or death caused by the operation of the vehicle in the streets and highways.

The general public policy involved in motor vehicle registration is the protection of innocent third persons who may have no means of identifying public road malefactors and, therefore, would find it difficult if not impossible to seek redress for damages they may sustain in accidents resulting in deaths, injuries and other damages; by fixing the person held primarily and directly liable for the damages sustained by victims of road mishaps, the law ensures that relief will always be available to them.

To identify the person primarily and directly responsible for the damages would also prevent a situation where a registered owner of a motor vehicle can easily escape liability by passing on the blame to anther who may have no means to answer for the damages caused, thereby defeating the claims of victims of road accidents. We take note that some motor vehicles running on our roads are driven not by their registered owners, but by employed drivers who, in most instances, do not have the financial means to pay for the damages caused in case of accidents.

Filcar cannot pass on the liability to another party

The agreement between Filcar and Atty. Flor to assign the motor vehicle to the latter does not bind Espinas who was not a party to and has no knowledge of the agreement, and whose only recourse is to the motor vehicle registration.

Filcar cannot use the defense that the employee acted beyond the scope of his assigned task or that it exercised the due diligence of a good father of a family to prevent damage

Neither can Filcar use the defenses available under Article 2180 of the Civil Code – that the employee acts beyond the scope of his assigned task or that it exercised the due diligence of a good father of a family to prevent damage – because the motor vehicle registration law, to a certain extent, modified Article 2180 of the Civil Code by making these defenses unavailable to the registered owner of the motor vehicle. Thus, for as long as Filcar is the registered owner of the car involved in the vehicular accident, it could not escape primary liability for the damages caused to Espinas.

Filcar’s recourse is against the actual employer of the driver and the driver himself

This does not mean, however, that Filcar is left without any recourse against the actual employer of the driver and the driver himself. Under the civil law principle of unjust enrichment, the registered owner of the motor vehicle has a right to be indemnified by the actual employer of the driver of the amount that he may be required to pay as damages for the injury caused to another.

  • Registered owner is deemed employer of the driver and is thus vicariously liable under Article 2176 in relation with Article 2180 of the Civil Code
  • 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 public highways, responsibility therefor can be fixed on a definite individual, the registered owner.
  • The motor vehicle registration law modified Article 2180 to a certain extent so that the defense available thereunder cannot be used by the registered owner
  • The registered owner can recover from the actual owner and the driver under the doctrine of unjust enrichment

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