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Filcar Transport Services vs.

Espinas,
G.R. 174156, June 29, 2012
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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; and it is on the basis of this fact
that we hold Filcar 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 ones 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 ones own acts or omissions, but also for
those of persons for whom one is responsible.
xxxx
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.
xxxx

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 employees 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 ones 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.
As its core defense, Filcar contends that Article 2176, in relation with
Article 2180, of the Civil Code is inapplicable because it presupposes the
existence of an employer-employee relationship. According to Filcar, it cannot
be held liable under the subject provisions because the driver of its vehicle at
the time of the accident, Floresca, is not its employee but that of its Corporate
Secretary, Atty. Flor.
We cannot agree. 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 Equitable Leasing Corporation v. Suyom, we ruled that 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.
In that case, a tractor registered in the name of Equitable Leasing
Corporation (Equitable) figured in an accident, killing and seriously injuring
several persons. As part of its defense, Equitable claimed that the tractor was
initially leased to Mr. Edwin Lim under a Lease Agreement, which agreement
has been overtaken by a Deed of Sale entered into by Equitable and Ecatine
Corporation (Ecatine). Equitable argued that it cannot be held liable for
damages because the tractor had already been sold to Ecatine at the time of
the accident and the negligent driver was not its employee but of Ecatine.
In upholding the liability of Equitable, as registered owner of the tractor,
this Court said that regardless of sales made of a motor vehicle, the registered
owner is the lawful operator insofar as the public and third persons are

concerned; consequently, it is directly and primarily responsible for the


consequences of its operation. The Court further stated that [i]n
contemplation of law, the owner/operator of record is the employer of the
driver, the actual operator and employer being considered as merely
its agent. Thus, Equitable, as the registered owner of the tractor, was
considered under the law onquasi delict to be the employer of the driver, Raul
Tutor; Ecatine, Tutors actual employer, was deemed merely as an agent of
Equitable.
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 employeremployee 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, which has been discussed by this
Court in Erezo, and cited by the CA in its decision:
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. [emphasis ours]

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.
As explained by this Court in Erezo, 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 another 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.
These same principles apply by analogy to the case at bar. Filcar should
not be permitted to evade its liability for damages by conveniently passing on
the blame to another party; in this case, its Corporate Secretary, Atty. Flor and
his alleged driver, Floresca. Following our reasoning in Equitable, 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.
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.
The public interest involved in this case must not be underestimated.
Road safety is one of the most common problems that must be addressed in
this country. We are not unaware of news of road accidents involving reckless
drivers victimizing our citizens. Just recently, such pervasive recklessness
among most drivers took the life of a professor of our state university. What is
most disturbing is that our existing laws do not seem to deter these road
malefactors from committing acts of recklessness.
We understand that the solution to the problem does not stop with
legislation. An effective administration and enforcement of the laws must be
ensured to reinforce discipline among drivers and to remind owners of motor
vehicles to exercise due diligence and vigilance over the acts of their drivers to
prevent damage to others.
Thus, whether the driver of the motor vehicle, Floresca, is an employee of
Filcar is irrelevant in arriving at the conclusion that Filcar is primarily and
directly liable for the damages sustained by Espinas. While Republic Act No.
4136 or the Land Transportation and Traffic Code does not contain any
provision on the liability of registered owners in case of motor vehicle mishaps,
Article 2176, in relation with Article 2180, of the Civil Code imposes an

obligation upon Filcar, as registered owner, to answer for the damages caused
to Espinas car. This interpretation is consistent with the strong public policy of
maintaining road safety, thereby reinforcing the aim of the State to promote the
responsible operation of motor vehicles by its citizens.
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.
The set-up may be inconvenient for the registered owner of the motor
vehicle, but the inconvenience cannot outweigh the more important public
policy being advanced by the law in this case which is the protection of
innocent persons who may be victims of reckless drivers and irresponsible
motor vehicle owners.

G.R. No. 144274

September 20, 2004

NOSTRADAMUS VILLANUEVA, petitioner,


vs.
PRISCILLA R. DOMINGO and LEANDRO LUIS R. DOMINGO, respondents.
DECISION
CORONA, J.:
This is a petition to review the decision1 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 52203
affirming in turn the decision of the trial court finding petitioner liable to respondent for damages.
The dispositive portion read:
WHEREFORE, the appealed decision is hereby AFFIRMED except the award of
attorneys fees including appearance fees which is DELETED.
SO ORDERED.2
The facts of the case, as summarized by the Court of Appeals, are as follows:
[Respondent] Priscilla R. Domingo is the registered owner of a silver Mitsubishi Lancer
Car model 1980 bearing plate No. NDW 781 91 with [co-respondent] Leandro Luis R.

Domingo as authorized driver. [Petitioner] Nostradamus Villanueva was then the


registered "owner" of a green Mitsubishi Lancer bearing Plate No. PHK 201 91.
On 22 October 1991 at about 9:45 in the evening, following a green traffic light,
[respondent] Priscilla Domingos silver Lancer car with Plate No. NDW 781 91 then
driven by [co-respondent] Leandro Luis R. Domingo was cruising along the middle lane
of South Superhighway at moderate speed from north to south. Suddenly, a green
Mitsubishi Lancer with plate No. PHK 201 91 driven by Renato Dela Cruz Ocfemia
darted from Vito Cruz Street towards the South Superhighway directly into the path of
NDW 781 91 thereby hitting and bumping its left front portion. As a result of the impact,
NDW 781 91 hit two (2) parked vehicles at the roadside, the second hitting another
parked car in front of it.
Per Traffic Accident Report prepared by Traffic Investigator Pfc. Patrocinio N. Acido,
Renato dela Cruz Ocfemia was driving with expired license and positive for alcoholic
breath. Hence, Manila Assistant City Prosecutor Oscar A. Pascua recommended the
filing of information for reckless imprudence resulting to (sic) damage to property and
physical injuries.
The original complaint was amended twice: first, impleading Auto Palace Car Exchange
as commercial agent and/or buyer-seller and second, impleading Albert Jaucian as
principal defendant doing business under the name and style of Auto Palace Car
Exchange.
Except for Ocfemia, all the defendants filed separate answers to the complaint.
[Petitioner] Nostradamus Villanueva claimed that he was no longer the owner of the car
at the time of the mishap because it was swapped with a Pajero owned by Albert
Jaucian/Auto Palace Car Exchange. For her part, Linda Gonzales declared that her
presence at the scene of the accident was upon the request of the actual owner of the
Mitsubishi Lancer (PHK 201 91) [Albert Jaucian] for whom she had been working as
agent/seller. On the other hand, Auto Palace Car Exchange represented by Albert
Jaucian claimed that he was not the registered owner of the car. Moreover, it could not
be held subsidiary liable as employer of Ocfemia because the latter was off-duty as
utility employee at the time of the incident. Neither was Ocfemia performing a duty
related to his employment.3
After trial, the trial court found petitioner liable and ordered him to pay respondent actual, moral
and exemplary damages plus appearance and attorneys fees:
WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered for the plaintiffs, ordering Nostradamus
Villanueva to pay the amount of P99,580 as actual damages, P25,000.00 as moral
damages, P25,000.00 as exemplary damages and attorneys fees in the amount
of P10,000.00 plus appearance fees of P500.00 per hearing with legal interest counted
from the date of judgment. In conformity with the law on equity and in accordance with
the ruling in First Malayan Lending and Finance Corporation vs. Court of Appeals
(supra), Albert Jaucian is hereby ordered to indemnify Nostradamus Villanueva for
whatever amount the latter is hereby ordered to pay under the judgment.
SO ORDERED.4
The CA upheld the trial courts decision but deleted the award for appearance and attorneys
fees because the justification for the grant was not stated in the body of the decision. Thus, this
petition for review which raises a singular issue:

MAY THE REGISTERED OWNER OF A MOTOR VEHICLE BE HELD LIABLE FOR


DAMAGES ARISING FROM A VEHICULAR ACCIDENT INVOLVING HIS MOTOR
VEHICLE WHILE BEING OPERATED BY THE EMPLOYEE OF ITS BUYER WITHOUT
THE LATTERS CONSENT AND KNOWLEDGE?5
Yes.
We have consistently ruled that the registered owner of any vehicle is directly and primarily
responsible to the public and third persons while it is being operated. 6 The rationale behind such
doctrine was explained way back in 1957 in Erezo vs. Jepte7:
The principle upon which this doctrine is based is that in dealing with vehicles registered under
the Public Service Law, the public has the right to assume or presume that the registered owner
is the actual owner thereof, for it would be difficult for the public to enforce the actions that they
may have for injuries caused to them by the vehicles being negligently operated if the public
should be required to prove who the actual owner is. How would the public or third persons
know against whom to enforce their rights in case of subsequent transfers of the vehicles? We
do not imply by his doctrine, however, that the registered owner may not recover whatever
amount he had paid by virtue of his liability to third persons from the person to whom he had
actually sold, assigned or conveyed the vehicle.
Under the same principle the registered owner of any vehicle, even if not used for a
public service, should primarily be responsible to the public or to third persons for
injuries caused the latter while the vehicle is being driven on the highways or streets.
The members of the Court are in agreement that the defendant-appellant should be held
liable to plaintiff-appellee for the injuries occasioned to the latter because of the
negligence of the driver, even if the defendant-appellant was no longer the owner of the
vehicle at the time of the damage because he had previously sold it to another. What is
the legal basis for his (defendant-appellants) liability?
There is a presumption that the owner of the guilty vehicle is the defendant-appellant as he is
the registered owner in the Motor Vehicles Office. Should he not be allowed to prove the truth,
that he had sold it to another and thus shift the responsibility for the injury to the real and actual
owner? The defendant holds the affirmative of this proposition; the trial court held the negative.
The Revised Motor Vehicle Law (Act No. 3992, as amended) provides that no vehicle may be
used or operated upon any public highway unless the same is property registered. It has been
stated that the system of licensing and the requirement that each machine must carry a
registration number, conspicuously displayed, is one of the precautions taken to reduce the
danger of injury to pedestrians and other travelers from the careless management of
automobiles. And to furnish a means of ascertaining the identity of persons violating the laws
and ordinances, regulating the speed and operation of machines upon the highways (2 R.C.L.
1176). Not only are vehicles to be registered and that no motor vehicles are to be used or
operated without being properly registered for the current year, but that dealers in motor
vehicles shall furnish thee Motor Vehicles Office a report showing the name and address of
each purchaser of motor vehicle during the previous month and the manufacturers serial
number and motor number. (Section 5(c), Act No. 3992, as amended.)
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 therefore 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 "share 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 pace a "middleman" between them and the public, and escape liability by
the manner in which they recompense servants. (King vs. Brenham Automobile Co., Inc. 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 by 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 (defendantappellant) 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.8

Petitioner insists that he is not liable for damages since the driver of the vehicle at the time of
the accident was not an authorized driver of the new (actual) owner of the vehicle. He claims
that the ruling in First Malayan Leasing and Finance Corporation vs. CA 9 implies that to hold the
registered owner liable for damages, the driver of the vehicle must have been authorized,
allowed and permitted by its actual owner to operate and drive it. Thus, if the vehicle is driven
without the knowledge and consent of the actual owner, then the registered owner cannot be
held liable for damages.
He further argues that this was the underlying theory behind Duavit vs. CA10 wherein the court
absolved the registered owner from liability after finding that the vehicle was virtually stolen from
the owners garage by a person who was neither authorized nor employed by the owner.
Petitioner concludes that the ruling in Duavit and not the one in First Malayan should be
applicable to him.
Petitioners argument lacks merit. Whether the driver is authorized or not by the actual owner is
irrelevant to 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. To require the driver of the vehicle to be authorized by
the actual owner before the registered owner can be held accountable is to defeat the very
purpose why motor vehicle legislations are enacted in the first place.
Furthermore, there is nothing in First Malayan which even remotely suggests that the driver
must be authorized before the registered owner can be held accountable. In First Malayan, the
registered owner, First Malayan Corporation, was held liable for damages arising from the
accident even if the vehicle involved was already owned by another party:
This Court has consistently ruled that regardless of who the actual owner is of a motor
vehicle might be, the registered owner is the operator of the same with respect to the
public and third persons, and as such, directly and primarily responsible for the
consequences of its operation. In contemplation of law, the owner/operator of record is
the employer of the driver, the actual operator and employer being considered merely as
his agent (MYC-Agro-Industrial Corporation vs. Vda. de Caldo, 132 SCRA 10,
citing Vargas vs. Langcay, 6 SCRA 174; Tamayo vs. Aquino, 105 Phil. 949).
We believe that it is immaterial whether or not the driver was actually employed
by the operator of record. It is even not necessary to prove who the actual owner
of the vehicle and the employer of the driver is. Granting that, in this case, the
father of the driver is the actual owner and that he is the actual employer,
following the well-settled principle that the operator of record continues to be the
operator of the vehicle in contemplation of law, as regards the public and third
person, and as such is responsible for the consequences incident to its
operation, we must hold and consider such owner-operator of record as the
employer, in contemplation of law, of the driver. And, to give effect to this policy of
law as enunciated in the above cited decisions of this Court, we must now extend
the same and consider the actual operator and employer as the agent of the
operator of record.11
Contrary to petitioners position, the First Malayan ruling is applicable to him since the case
involves the same set of facts the registered owner had previously sold the vehicle to
someone else and was being driven by an employee of the new (actual) owner. Duavit is
inapplicable since the vehicle there was not transferred to another; the registered and the actual
owner was one and the same person. Besides, in Duavit, the defense of the registered owner,
Gilberto Duavit, was that the vehicle was practically stolen from his garage by Oscar Sabiano,
as affirmed by the latter:

Defendant Sabiano, in his testimony, categorically admitted that he took the jeep from
the garage of defendant Duavit without the consent and authority of the latter. He
testified further that Duavit even filed charges against him for the theft of the jeep but
which Duavit did not push through as his (Sabianos) parents apologized to Duavit on his
behalf.12
As correctly pointed out by the CA, the Duavit ruling is not applicable to petitioners case since
the circumstance of unauthorized use was not present. He in fact voluntarily delivered his car to
Albert Jaucian as part of the downpayment for a vehicle he purchased from Jaucian. Thus, he
could not claim that the vehicle was stolen from him since he voluntarily ceded possession
thereof to Jaucian. It was the latter, as the new (actual) owner, who could have raised the
defense of theft to prove that he was not liable for the acts of his employee Ocfemia. Thus,
there is no reason to apply the Duavit ruling to this case.
The ruling in First Malayan has been reiterated in BA Finance Corporation vs. CA13 and more
recently in Aguilar, Sr. vs. Commercial Savings Bank.14 In BA Finance, we held the registered
owner liable even if, at the time of the accident, the vehicle was leased by another party and
was driven by the lessees employee. In Aguilar, the registered owner-bank answered for
damages for the accident even if the vehicle was being driven by the Vice-President of the Bank
in his private capacity and not as an officer of the Bank, as claimed by the Bank. We find no
reason to deviate from these decisions.
The main purpose of vehicle registration is the easy identification of the owner who can be held
responsible for any accident, damage or injury caused by the vehicle. Easy identification
prevents inconvenience and prejudice to a third party injured by one who is unknown or
unidentified. To allow a registered owner to escape liability by claiming that the driver was not
authorized by the new (actual) owner results in the public detriment the law seeks to avoid.
Finally, the issue of whether or not the driver of the vehicle during the accident was authorized is
not at all relevant to determining the liability of the registered owner. This must be so if we are to
comply with the rationale and principle behind the registration requirement under the motor
vehicle law.
WHEREFORE, the petition is hereby DENIED. The January 26, 2000 decision of the Court of
Appeals isAFFIRMED.
SO ORDERED.
G.R. No. 174156

June 20, 2012

FILCAR TRANSPORT SERVICES, Petitioner,


vs.
JOSE A. ESPINAS, Respondent.
DECISION
BRION, J.:
We resolve the present petition for review on certiorari1 filed by petitioner Filcar Transport Services
(Filcar), challenging the decision2 and the resolution3 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No.
86603.
The facts of the case, gathered from the records, are briefly summarized below.

On November 22, 1998, at around 6:30 p.m., respondent Jose A. Espinas was driving his car along
Leon Guinto Street in Manila. Upon reaching the intersection of Leon Guinto and President Quirino
Streets, Espinas stopped his car. When the signal light turned green, he proceeded to cross the
intersection. He was already in the middle of the intersection when another car, traversing President
Quirino Street and going to Roxas Boulevard, suddenly hit and bumped his car. As a result of the
impact, Espinas car turned clockwise. The other car escaped from the scene of the incident, but
Espinas was able to get its plate number.
After verifying with the Land Transportation Office, Espinas learned that the owner of the other car,
with plate number UCF-545, is Filcar.
Espinas sent several letters to Filcar and to its President and General Manager Carmen Flor,
demanding payment for the damages sustained by his car. On May 31, 2001, Espinas filed a
complaint for damages against Filcar and Carmen Flor before the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) of
Manila, and the case was raffled to Branch 13. In the complaint, Espinas demanded that Filcar and
Carmen Flor pay the amount of P97,910.00, representing actual damages sustained by his car.
Filcar argued that while it is the registered owner of the car that hit and bumped Espinas car, the car
was assigned to its Corporate Secretary Atty. Candido Flor, the husband of Carmen Flor. Filcar
further stated that when the incident happened, the car was being driven by Atty. Flors personal
driver, Timoteo Floresca.
Atty. Flor, for his part, alleged that when the incident occurred, he was attending a birthday
celebration at a nearby hotel, and it was only later that night when he noticed a small dent on and
the cracked signal light of the car. On seeing the dent and the crack, Atty. Flor allegedly asked
Floresca what happened, and the driver replied that it was a result of a "hit and run" while the car
was parked in front of Bogota on Pedro Gil Avenue, Manila.
Filcar denied any liability to Espinas and claimed that the incident was not due to its fault or
negligence since Floresca was not its employee but that of Atty. Flor. Filcar and Carmen Flor both
said that they always exercised the due diligence required of a good father of a family in leasing or
assigning their vehicles to third parties.
The MeTC Decision
The MeTC, in its decision dated January 20, 2004,4 ruled in favor of Espinas, and ordered Filcar and
Carmen Flor, jointly and severally, to pay Espinas P97,910.00 as actual damages, representing the
cost of repair, with interest at 6% per annum from the date the complaint was filed; P50,000.00 as
moral damages; P20,000.00 as exemplary damages; and P20,000.00 as attorneys fees. The MeTC
ruled that Filcar, as the registered owner of the vehicle, is primarily responsible for damages
resulting from the vehicles operation.
The RTC Decision
The Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila, Branch 20, in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction,
affirmed the MeTC decision.5 The RTC ruled that Filcar failed to prove that Floresca was not its
employee as no proof was adduced that Floresca was personally hired by Atty. Flor. The RTC
agreed with the MeTC that the registered owner of a vehicle is directly and primarily liable for the
damages sustained by third persons as a consequence of the negligent or careless operation of a
vehicle registered in its name. The RTC added that the victim of recklessness on the public
highways is without means to discover or identify the person actually causing the injury or damage.
Thus, the only recourse is to determine the owner, through the vehicles registration, and to hold him
responsible for the damages.
The CA Decision

On appeal, the CA partly granted the petition in CA-G.R. SP No. 86603; it modified the RTC decision
by ruling that Carmen Flor, President and General Manager of Filcar, is not personally liable to
Espinas. The appellate court pointed out that, subject to recognized exceptions, the liability of a
corporation is not the liability of its corporate officers because a corporate entity subject to wellrecognized exceptions has a separate and distinct personality from its officers and shareholders.
Since the circumstances in the case at bar do not fall under the exceptions recognized by law, the
CA concluded that the liability for damages cannot attach to Carmen Flor.
The CA, however, affirmed the liability of Filcar to pay Espinas damages. According to the CA, even
assuming that there had been no employer-employee relationship between Filcar and the driver of
the vehicle, Floresca, the former can be held liable under the registered owner rule.
The CA relied on the rule that the registered owner of a vehicle is directly and primarily responsible
to the public and to third persons while the vehicle is being operated. Citing Erezo, et al. v.
Jepte,6 the CA said that the rationale behind the rule is to avoid circumstances where vehicles
running on public highways cause accidents or injuries to pedestrians or other vehicles without
positive identification of the owner or drivers, or with very scant means of identification. In Erezo, the
Court said that the main aim of motor vehicle registration is to identify the owner, so that if a vehicle
causes damage or injury to pedestrians or other vehicles, responsibility can be traced to a definite
individual and that individual is the registered owner of the vehicle.7
The CA did not accept Filcars argument that it cannot be held liable for damages because the driver
of the vehicle was not its employee. In so ruling, the CA cited the case of Villanueva v.
Domingo8 where the Court said that the question of whether the driver was authorized by the actual
owner is irrelevant in determining the primary and direct responsibility of the registered owner of a
vehicle for accidents, injuries and deaths caused by the operation of his vehicle.
Filcar filed a motion for reconsideration which the CA denied in its Resolution dated July 6, 2006.
Hence, the present petition.
The Issue
Simply stated, the issue for the consideration of this Court is: whether Filcar, as registered owner of
the motor vehicle which figured in an accident, may be held liable for the damages caused to
Espinas.
Our Ruling
The petition is without merit.
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; and it is on the basis of this fact that we hold Filcar primarily and directly liable to
Espinas for damages.
As a general rule, one is only responsible for his own act or omission. 9 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 ones
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 ones own acts or
omissions, but also for those of persons for whom one is responsible.
xxxx
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.
xxxx
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
employees 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
ones subordinates to prevent damage to another.10 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.
As its core defense, Filcar contends that Article 2176, in relation with Article 2180, of the Civil Code
is inapplicable because it presupposes the existence of an employer-employee relationship.
According to Filcar, it cannot be held liable under the subject provisions because the driver of its
vehicle at the time of the accident, Floresca, is not its employee but that of its Corporate Secretary,
Atty. Flor.
We cannot agree. 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 Equitable Leasing Corporation v. Suyom,11 we ruled that 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.
In that case, a tractor registered in the name of Equitable Leasing Corporation (Equitable) figured in
an accident, killing and seriously injuring several persons. As part of its defense, Equitable claimed
that the tractor was initially leased to Mr. Edwin Lim under a Lease Agreement, which agreement has
been overtaken by a Deed of Sale entered into by Equitable and Ecatine Corporation (Ecatine).
Equitable argued that it cannot be held liable for damages because the tractor had already been sold
to Ecatine at the time of the accident and the negligent driver was not its employee but of Ecatine.
In upholding the liability of Equitable, as registered owner of the tractor, this Court said that
"regardless of sales made of a motor vehicle, the registered owner is the lawful operator insofar as
the public and third persons are concerned; consequently, it is directly and primarily responsible for
the consequences of its operation."12 The Court further stated that "[i]n contemplation of law, the

owner/operator of record is the employer of the driver, the actual operator and employer being
considered as merely its agent."13 Thus, Equitable, as the registered owner of the tractor, was
considered under the law on quasi delict to be the employer of the driver, Raul Tutor; Ecatine, Tutors
actual employer, was deemed merely as an agent of Equitable.
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, which
has been discussed by this Court in Erezo, and cited by the CA in its decision:
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. [emphasis ours]
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.
As explained by this Court in Erezo, 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 another 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.
These same principles apply by analogy to the case at bar. Filcar should not be permitted to evade
its liability for damages by conveniently passing on the blame to another party; in this case, its
Corporate Secretary, Atty. Flor and his alleged driver, Floresca. Following our reasoning in Equitable,
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.
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.
1awp++i1

The public interest involved in this case must not be underestimated. Road safety is one of the most
common problems that must be addressed in this country. We are not unaware of news of road
accidents involving reckless drivers victimizing our citizens. Just recently, such pervasive
recklessness among most drivers took the life of a professor of our state university.14 What is most
disturbing is that our existing laws do not seem to deter these road malefactors from committing acts
of recklessness.
We understand that the solution to the problem does not stop with legislation. An effective
administration and enforcement of the laws must be ensured to reinforce discipline among drivers
and to remind owners of motor vehicles to exercise due diligence and vigilance over the acts of their
drivers to prevent damage to others.
Thus, whether the driver of the motor vehicle, Floresca, is an employee of Filcar is irrelevant in
arriving at the conclusion that Filcar is primarily and directly liable for the damages sustained by
Espinas. While Republic Act No. 4136 or the Land Transportation and Traffic Code does not contain
any provision on the liability of registered owners in case of motor vehicle mishaps, Article 2176, in
relation with Article 2180, of the Civil Code imposes an obligation upon Filcar, as registered owner, to
answer for the damages caused to Espinas car. This interpretation is consistent with the strong
public policy of maintaining road safety, thereby reinforcing the aim of the State to promote the
responsible operation of motor vehicles by its citizens.
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.
The set-up may be inconvenient for the registered owner of the motor vehicle, but the inconvenience
cannot outweigh the more important public policy being advanced by the law in this case which is
the protection of innocent persons who may be victims of reckless drivers and irresponsible motor
vehicle owners.
WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The decision dated February 16, 2006 and the resolution
dated July 6, 2006 of the Court of Appeals are AFFIRMED. Costs against petitioner Filcar Transport
Services.
SO ORDERED.
ARTURO D. BRION
Associate Justice