THIRD DIVISION

[G.R. No. 138054. September 28, 2000]

ROSENDO C. CARTICIANO and ZACARIAS A. CARTICIANO, petitioners, vs. MARIO NUVAL, respondent.

D E C I S I O N

PANGANIBAN, J.:

To hold an employer liable for the negligent acts of the employee, it is enough to prove that the latter was hired to drive the formers motor vehicle. It is not necessary to show, in addition, that the employers children were aboard the jeep when the accident happened. Once the driver is shown to be negligent, the burden of proof to free the employer from liability shifts to the latter.

Statement of the Case

Before this Court is a Petition for Review on Certiorari[1] under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, assailing the November 10, 1999 Decision[2] of the Court of Appeals (CA)[3] in CA-GR CV No. 52316, which disposed as follows:

WHEREFORE, [the] foregoing considered, the appealed decision is hereby AFFIRMED insofar as defendant Darwin is concerned and REVERSED and SET-ASIDE as it pertains to defendant-appellant Nuval. Defendant-appellant Nuval is hereby absolved of any civil liability and the complaint against him is hereby DISMISSED.[4]

On the other hand, the trial court[5] ruled in this wise:

ACCORDINGLY, judgment is hereby rendered in favor of plaintiffs and against defendants, ordering the latter to pay the former jointly and severally the following:

1) The amount of P160,715.19 as actual damage for the medical treatment so far of plaintiff Zacarias Carticiano;

2) The amount of P100,000.00 to compensate the income and opportunities plaintiff Zacarias lost as a result of the incident;

3) The amount of P173,788.00 for the damages sustained by the Ford Laser;

4) The amount of P200,000.00 as moral damages;

5) The amount of P100,000.00 as exemplary damages;

6) The amount of P100,000.00 as attorneys fees and expenses of litigation.

With costs.

SO ORDERED.

The Facts

The facts are summarized succinctly by the Court of Appeals as follows:

"On September 3, 1992 at about 9:30 in the evening, plaintiff Zacarias Carticiano was on his way home to Imus, Cavite. Plaintiff Zacarias was driving his fathers (plaintiff Rosendo Carticiano) Ford Laser car, traversing the coastal roads of Longos, Bacoor, Cavite.

On the same date and time, defendant Nuvals owner-type Jeep, then driven by defendant Darwin was traveling on the opposite direction going to Paraaque.

When the two cars were about to pass one another, defendant Darwin veered his vehicle to his left going to the center island of the highway and occupied the lane which plaintiff Zacarias was traversing.

As a result thereof, plaintiff Zacarias Ford Laser collided head-on with defendant Nuvals Jeep. Defendant Darwin immediately fled from the scene.

Plaintiff Zacarias was taken out [of] the car by residents of the area and was brought to the hospital by Eduard Tangan, a Narcom agent who happened to pass by the place. Plaintiff Zacarias suffered multiple fracture on his left leg and other injuries in his body. Plaintiff Zacarias underwent a leg operation and physical therapy to repair the damaged leg.

Defendant Nuval offered P100,000.00 as compensation for the injuries caused. Plaintiffs refused to accept the amount.

On this account, plaintiffs filed a criminal suit against defendant Darwin. Plaintiffs also filed this present civil suit against defendants for damages.

Plaintiffs alleged that the proximate cause of the accident is defendants Darwin recklessness in driving defendant Nuvals jeep; that on account of said recklessness of defendant Darwin, plaintiff suffered damages; that defendant Darwin was an employee of defendant Nuval at the time of accident; that defendant Nuval did not exercise due diligence in the supervision of his employee; that defendants should he held liable for damages.

Defendant Nuval on the other hand insisted that he cannot be held answerable for the acts of defendant Darwin; that defendant Darwin was not an employee of defendant Nuval at the time of the accident; that defendant Darwin was hired only as casual and has worked with defendant Nuvals company only for five days; that at the time of the accident, defendant Darwin was no longer connected with defendant Nuvals company; that defendant Darwin was not authorized to drive the vehicle of defendant Nuval; that defendant Nuval tried to locate defendant Darwin but the latter could no longer be found; that defendant Nuval cannot be held liable for damages.

Defendant Darwin [h]as failed to file his answer within the reglementary period. Consequently, he was declared in default. Trial of the case proceeded.[6]

Ruling of the Court of Appeals

The Court of Appeals explained that in order to hold an employer liable for the negligent acts of an employee under Article 2180 of the Civil Code, it must be shown that the employee was acting within the scope of his assigned task when the tort complained of was committed.[7]

The employer in this case, Respondent Mario Nuval, cannot be held liable for the tort committed by Darwin. First, appellants did not present evidence showing that the driver was indeed an employee of respondent at the time the accident occurred. And second, even assuming arguendo that Darwin was in fact an employee of Nuval, it was not shown that the former was acting within the scope of his assigned task when the incident happened. Thus, the requisites for holding an employer liable for the tort committed by an employee were not satisfied.

Hence, this appeal.[8]

Issues

Petitioners present the following issues:

A. Whether or not Defendant Darwin was in fact an employee of Defendant Nuval;

B. Whether or not Defendant Nuval was negligent in the selection and supervision of his employees;

C. Whether or not Defendant Nuval was grossly negligent in the safekeeping of the key to his owner-type jeep and of said vehicle itself;

D. Whether or not respondent must be held liable for the damages and injuries suffered by appellees; [and]

E. Whether or not findings of facts of the Court of Appeals are subject to exceptions.[9]

For brevity, Item A will be taken up as the first issue; while B, C, D and E will be discussed together as the second issue, since they all directly pertain to respondents vicarious liability.

The Courts Ruling

The Petition is meritorious.

First Issue: No Proof That Employment Was Terminated

Respondent maintains that on the date[10] the accident happened, Darwin was no longer his employee because the latters services had already been terminated. Nuval adds that Darwin was hired for a period of only four to six days. To substantiate this claim, the former presented payroll and employment records showing that the latter was no longer his employee.

We disagree. The only proof proferred by Respondent Nuval to show that Darwin was no longer his employee was the payroll in which the latters name was not included. However, as revealed by the testimonies of the witnesses presented during trial, respondent had other employees working for him who were not listed in the payroll either. The trial court explained as follows:

It surfaced that the payroll and daily time records presented by defendant Nuval [were] not reliable proofs of the names and number of employees that defendant Nuval had at the time of the incident in view of the testimonies of witnesses for defendant Nuval tending to show that there were more employees of defendant Nuval who were not in the payroll.[11]

The rather easy access which Darwin had to the keys to the vehicle of Nuval further weakened the latters cause. First, nobody questioned the fact that the former had freely entered respondents house where the keys to the vehicle were kept. The theory of Nuval that Darwin must have stolen the keys as well as the vehicle is rather farfetched and not supported by any proof whatsoever. It is obviously an afterthought concocted to present some semblance of a defense. Second, both respondent and his employees who testified did not act as if the vehicle had been stolen. He had not reported the alleged theft of his vehicle. Neither did he search nor ask his employees to search for the supposedly stolen vehicle. In fact, he testified that his employees had told him that the keys and the vehicle had merely probably been stolen by Darwin.

Atty. Bobadilia: Did you ask among your employees who gave the key to Darwin?

Mario Nuval: I asked them, sir.

Atty. Bobadilla: What was the reply of your employees?

M. Nuval: According to my employees he stole the key of the jeepney at home.

Atty. Abas: I disagree with the interpretation of the interpreter because the answer of the witness is ninanak yata.

Interpreter: I agree, your Honor.

Court: So, what is the correct interpretation?

A: According to my employees perhaps the key was stolen, or perhaps Darwin stole the key to the jeep.[12]

From the totality of the evidence, we are convinced that Darwin was Nuvals driver at the time of the accident.

Second to Fourth Issues: Employers Liability

The CA agreed with the theory of respondent that he could not be held liable for the negligent acts of his employee because Darwin was not acting within the scope of his assigned tasks when the damage occurred. Respondent adds that he observed the diligence of a good father of a family and was not negligent in safeguarding the keys to the said vehicle.

Article 2180 of the Civil Code provides that employers shall be liable for damages caused by their employees acting within the scope of their assigned tasks. The said provision is reproduced below:

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

The father and, in case of his death or incapacity, the mother, are responsible for the damages caused by the minor children who live [in] their company.

Guardians are liable for damages caused by the minors or incapacitated persons who are under their authority and live in their company.

The owners and managers of an establishment or enterprise are likewise responsible for damages caused by their employees in the service of the branches in which the latter are employed or on the occasion of their functions.

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.

The State is responsible in like manner when it acts through a special agent; but not when the damage has been caused by the official to whom the task done properly pertains, in which case what is provided in article 2176 shall be applicable.

Lastly, teachers or heads of establishments of arts and trades shall be liable for damages caused by their pupils and students or apprentices, so long as they remain in their custody.

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.[13] (Italics supplied)

The facts established in the case at bar show that Darwin was acting within the scope of the authority given him when the collision occurred. That he had been hired only to bring respondents children to and from school must be rejected. True, this may have been one of his assigned tasks, but no convincing proof was presented showing that it was his only task. His authority was to drive Nuvals vehicle. Third parties are not bound by the allegation that the driver was authorized to operate the jeep only when the employers children were on board the vehicle. Giving credence to this outlandish theory would enable employers to escape their legal liabilities with impunity. Such loophole is easy to concoct and is simply unacceptable.

The claim of respondent that he had exercised the diligence of a good father of a family is not borne out by the evidence. Neither is it supported by logic. His main defense that at the time of the accident Darwin was no longer his employee, having been merely hired for a few days, is inconsistent with his other argument of due diligence in the selection of an employee.

Once a driver is proven negligent in causing damages, the law presumes the vehicle owner equally negligent and imposes upon the latter the burden of proving proper selection of employee as a defense.[14] Respondent failed to show that he had satisfactorily discharged this burden.

No Proof of Contributory Negligence

Respondent Nuvals accusation that Petitioner Zacarias Carticiano is guilty of contributory negligence by failing to stop his car or to evade the oncoming jeep is untenable. Both the trial and the appellate courts found that the accident was caused by the fact that Darwins jeep suddenly veered towards Zacarias lane when the vehicles were about to pass each other, thus making it difficult if not impossible for petitioner to avoid the head-on collission. Nuval utterly failed to present sufficient evidence to show that Zacarias could have evaded the jeep. Given the distance between the vehicles and the speed at which they were travelling, the former was not able to demonstrate convincingly that the latter could have minimized the damage complained of.

Review of Factual Findings

Generally, the factual findings of lower courts are accorded great respect by this Court. However, the above rule is subject to certain exceptions, one of which is when the two lower courts findings oppose each other.[15]

In the present case, there is a clear conflict between the findings of the trial court and those of the CA. Such conflict hinges on whether it was sufficiently proven that the employment of Darwin had indeed been terminated by respondent, and whether the former was acting within the scope of his assigned tasks at the time the collision occurred. The resolution of both of these pivotal factual issues is determinative of respondents vicarious liability for the injuries caused by Darwin. It is thus necessary for this Court to pore over the evidence adduced, as it did already.

Damages

Article 2199 of the Civil Code allows the aggrieved party to recover the pecuniary loss that he has suffered.

ART. 2199. Except as provided by law or by stipulation, one is entitled to an adequate compensation only for such pecuniary loss suffered by him as he has duly proved. Such compensation is referred to as actual or compensatory damages.

Based on the above, Petitioner Zacarias is entitled to indemnification for actual damages caused by the negligence of Darwin, for which the latters employer, Respondent Nuval, is solidarily liable. And as found by the trial court, petitioner is entitled to P160,715.19 for his medical treatment, as testified to by Dr. Eduardo Arandia. In the same vein, both petitioners are also entitled to P173,788, which represents the costs incurred for the repair of the damaged vehicle.[16]

The Civil Code allows indemnification for lost profit or income,[17] but petitioners failed to adduce sufficient proof of such loss.

However, moral damages are in order, based on Articles 2217 and 2219 of the Civil Code which respectively provide:

ART. 2217. Moral damages include physical suffering, mental anguish, fright, serious anxiety, besmirched reputation, wounded feelings, moral shock, social humiliation, and similar injury. Though incapable of pecuniary computation, moral damages may be recovered if they are the proximate result of the defendants wrongful act or omission.

ART. 2219. Moral damages may be recovered in the following and analogous cases:

x x x x x x x x x

(2) Quasi-delicts causing physical injuries x x x

As a direct result of the collision, petitioner suffered physically. It is also true that he experienced and will continue to experience social humiliation and ridicule for having his left leg shorter than the right which causes him to limp when walking. For the above, we agree with the trial court that Petitioner Zacarias is entitled to an award of moral damages.

Exemplary damages and attorneys fees are likewise authorized by the following provisions of the Civil Code:

ART. 2229. Exemplary or corrective damages are imposed, by way of example or correction for the public good, in addition to the moral, temperate, liquidated or compensatory damages.

ART. 2234. While the amount of the exemplary damages need not be proved, the plaintiff must show that he is entitled to moral, temperate or compensatory damages before the court may consider the question of whether or not exemplary damages should be awarded. In case liquidated damages have been agreed upon, although no proof of loss is necessary in order that such liquidated damages may be recovered, nevertheless, before the court may consider the question of granting exemplary in addition to the liquidated damages, the plaintiff must show that he would be entitled to moral, temperate or compensatory damages were it not for the stipulation for liquidated damages.

ART. 2208. In the absence of stipulation, attorneys fees and expenses of litigation, other than judicial costs, cannot be recovered, except:

(1) When exemplary damages are awarded x x x.[18]

As held by the trial court, respondents refusal to answer adequately for the damages forced petitioners to litigate and incur expenses. And to serve as an example for the public good, exemplary damages are affirmed, since Petitioner Zacarias has already shown that he is entitled to compensatory and moral damages in accordance with Article 2234 of the Civil Code.

WHEREFORE, the Petition is hereby GRANTED. The assailed Decision is REVERSED and SET ASIDE and the trial courts Decision REINSTATED, except that the award of P100,000 for lost income or opportunities is DELETED.

SO ORDERED.

Melo, (Chairman), Vitug, Purisima, and Gonzaga-Reyes, JJ., concur.



[1] Rollo, pp. 11-32. The Petition was signed by Atty. Efren Moncupa, counsel for the petitioners.

[2] Rollo, pp. 62-70.

[3] Written by J. Eugenio S. Labitoria; concurred in by JJ Jesus M. Elbinias, Division chairman, and Marina L. Buzon, member.

[4] Assailed Decision, p. 9; rollo, p. 70.

[5] Penned by Judge Marciano T. Virola of the Regional Trial Court of Oriental Mindoro, Branch 39.

[6] Assailed Decision, pp. 3-4; rollo, pp. 64-65.

[7] Assailed Decision, p. 4; rollo, p. 65.

[8] This case was deemed submitted for resolution on May 2, 2000, upon receipt by this Court of petitioners Memorandum signed by Atty. Reynaldo A. Garcia. Respondents Memorandum, signed by Atty. Romulo R. Bobadilla, was received on April 24, 2000.

[9] Memorandum for Petitioners, pp. 4-5; rollo, pp. 179-180. All in upper case in the original.

[10] September 3, 1992.

[11] Trial court Decision, p. 2; rollo, p. 58.

[12] TSN, March 24, 1995, p. 9.

[13] Article 2180 of the Civil Code.

[14] Sangco, Philippine Law on Torts and Damages, Vol. II, 1994 ed., pp. 555-556.

[15] Fuentes v. CA, 268 SCRA 703, February 26, 1997.

[16] Said amount is based on the repairs shown in Exhibit G-2; rollo, p. 51.

[17] Article 2200 of the Civil Code.

[18] The full article reads:

ART. 2208. In the absence of stipulation, attorneys fees and expenses of litigation, other than judicial costs, cannot be recovered, except:

(1) When exemplary damages are awarded;

(2) When the defendants act or omission has compelled the plaintiff to litigate with third persons or to incur expenses to protect his interest;

(3) In criminal cases of malicious prosecution against the plaintiff;

(4) In case of a clearly unfounded civil action or proceeding against the plaintiff;

(5) Where the defendant acted in gross and evident bad faith in refusing to satisfy the plaintiffs plainly valid, just and demandable claim;

(6) In actions for legal support;

(7) In actions for the recovery of wages of household helpers, laborers and skilled workers;

(8) In actions for indemnity under workmens compensation and employers liability laws

(9) In a separate civil action to recover civil liability arising from a crime;

(10) When at least double judicial costs are awarded;

(11) In any other case where the court deems it just and equitable that attorneys fees and expenses of litigation should be recovered.

In all cases, the attorneys fees and expenses of litigation must be reasonable.