Republic of the Philippines



G.R. No. 120553 June 17, 1997



The petitioners interposed this appeal by way of a petition for review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court from the 31 January 1995 Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 41140 1 affirming the 22 January 1993 2 Decision of Branch 31 of the Regional Trial Court, Calbayog City, in Civil Case No. 373, which ordered the petitioners to pay the private respondents damages as a result of a vehicular accident.

Civil Case No. 373 was an action against herein petitioners for damages instituted by the heirs of Ramon A. Acuesta, namely, Gregorio O. Acuesta; Julio O. Acuesta; Ramon O. Acuesta, Jr.; Baltazar O. Acuesta; Rufino O. Acuesta; Maximo O. Acuesta; Neri O. Acuesta; Iluminada O. Acuesta; Rosario Acuesta-Sanz; and Pamfilo O. Acuesta. Atty. Julio O. Acuesta also appeared as counsel for the plaintiffs (herein private respondents). 3 The private respondents alleged that the petitioners were guilty of gross negligence, recklessness, violation of traffic rules and regulations, abandonment of victim, and attempt to escape from a crime.

To support their allegations, the private respondents presented eight witnesses. On 10 February 1992, after the cross-examination of the last witness, the private respondents' counsel made a reservation to present a ninth witness. The case was then set for continuation of the trial on 30 and 31 March 1992. Because of the non-appearance of the petitioners' counsel, the 30 March 1992 hearing was cancelled. The next day, private respondents' counsel manifested that he would no longer present the ninth witness. He thereafter made an oral offer of evidence and rested the case. The trial court summarized private respondents' evidence in this wise:

[I]n the early morning of March 24, 1990, about 6:00 o'clock, the victim Ramon A. Acuesta was riding in his easy rider bicycle (Exhibit "O"), along the Gomez Street of Calbayog City. The Gomez Street is along the side of Nijaga Park. On the Magsaysay Blvd., also in Calbayog City, defendant Philtranco Service Enterprises, Inc. (Philtranco for brevity) Bus No. 4025 with plate No. EVA-725 driven by defendant Rogasiones Manilhig y Dolira was being pushed by some persons in order to start its engine. The Magsaysay Blvd. runs perpendicular to Gomez St. and the said Philtranco bus 4025 was heading in the general direction of the said Gomez Street. Some of the persons who were pushing the bus were on its back, while the others were on the sides. As the bus was pushed, its engine started thereby the bus continued on its running motion and it occurred at the time when Ramon A. Acuesta who was still riding on his bicycle was directly in front of the said bus. As the engine of the Philtranco bus started abruptly and suddenly, its running motion was also enhanced by the said functioning engine, thereby the subject bus bumped on the victim Ramon A. Acuesta who, as a result thereof fell and, thereafter, was run over by the said bus. The bus did not stop although it had already bumped and ran [sic] over the victim; instead, it proceeded running towards the direction of the Rosales Bridge which is located at one side of the Nijaga Park and towards one end of the Gomez St., to which direction the victim was then heading when he was riding on his bicycle. P/Sgt. Yabao who was then jogging thru the Gomez Street and was heading and meeting the victim Ramon A. Acuesta as the latter was riding on his bicycle, saw when the Philtranco bus was being pushed by some passengers, when its engine abruptly started and when the said bus bumped and ran over the victim. He approached the bus driver defendant Manilhig herein and signalled to him to stop, but the latter did not listen. So the police officer jumped into the bus and introducing himself to the driver defendant as policeman, ordered the latter to stop. The said defendant driver stopped the Philtranco bus near the Nijaga Park and Sgt. Yabao thereafter, told the driver to proceed to the Police Headquarter which was only 100 meters away from Nijaga Park because he was apprehensive that the said driver might be harmed by the relatives of the victim who might come to the scene of the accident. Then Sgt. Yabao cordoned the scene where the vehicular accident occurred and had P/Cpl. Bartolome Bagot, the Traffic Investigator, conduct an investigation and make a sketch of the crime scene. Sgt. Yambao Yabao was only about 20 meters away when he saw the bus of defendant Philtranco bumped [sic] and [sic] ran over the victim. From the place where the victim was actually bumped by the bus, the said vehicle still had run to a distance of about 15 meters away. 4

For their part, the petitioners filed an Answer 5 wherein they alleged that petitioner Philtranco exercised the diligence of a good father of a family in the selection and supervision of its employees, including petitioner Manilhig who had excellent record as a driver and had undergone months of rigid training before he was hired. Petitioner Manilhig had always been a prudent professional driver, religiously observing traffic rules and regulations. In driving Philtranco's buses, he exercised the diligence of a very cautious person.

As might be expected, the petitioners had a different version of the incident. They alleged that in the morning of 24 March 1990, Manilhig, in preparation for his trip back to Pasay City, warmed up the engine of the bus and made a few rounds within the city proper of Calbayog. While the bus was slowly and moderately cruising along Gomez Street, the victim, who was biking towards the same direction as the bus, suddenly overtook two tricycles and swerved left to the center of the road. The swerving was abrupt and so sudden that even as Manilhig applied the brakes and blew the bus horn, the victim was bumped from behind and run over by the bus. It was neither willful nor deliberate on Manilhig's part to proceed with the trip after his bus bumped the victim, the truth being that when he looked at his rear-view window, he saw people crowding around the victim, with others running after his bus. Fearing that he might be mobbed, he moved away from the scene of the accident and intended to report the incident to the police. After a man boarded his bus and introduced himself as a policeman, Manilhig gave himself up to the custody of the police and reported the accident in question.

The petitioners further claimed that it was the negligence of the victim in overtaking two tricycles, without taking precautions such as seeing first that the road was clear, which caused the death of the victim. The latter did not even give any signal of his intention to overtake. The petitioners then counterclaimed for P50,000 as and for attorney's fees; P1 million as moral damages; and P50,000 for litigation expenses.

However, the petitioners were not able to present their evidence, as they were deemed to have waived that right by the failure of their counsel to appear at the scheduled hearings on 30 and 31 March 1992. The trial court then issued an Order 6 declaring the case submitted for decision. Motions for the reconsideration of the said Order were both denied.

On 22 January 1992, the trial court handed down a decision ordering the petitioners to jointly and severally pay the private respondents the following amounts:

1) P55, 615.72 as actual damages;

2) P200,000 as death indemnity for the death of the victim Ramon A. Acuesta;

3) P1 million as moral damages;

4) P500,000 by way of exemplary damages;

5) P50,000 as attorney's fees; and

6) the costs of suit. 7

Unsatisfied with the judgment, the petitioners appealed to the Court of Appeals imputing upon the trial court the following errors:

(1) in preventing or barring them from presenting their evidence;

(2) in finding that petitioner Manilhig was at fault;

(3) in not finding that Ramon was the one at fault and his own fault caused, or at least contributed to, his unfortunate accident;

(4) in awarding damages to the private respondents; and

(5) in finding that petitioner Philtranco was solidarily liable with Manilhig for damages. 8

In its decision of 31 January 1995, the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the trial court. It held that the petitioners were not denied due process, as they were given an opportunity to present their defense. The records show that they were notified of the assignment of the case for 30 and 31 March 1992. Yet, their counsel did not appear on the said dates. Neither did he file a motion for postponement of the hearings, nor did he appeal from the denial of the motions for reconsideration of the 31 March 1992 Order of the trial court. The petitioners have thereby waived their right to present evidence. Their expectation that they would have to object yet to a formal offer of evidence by the private respondents was "misplaced," for it was within the sound discretion of the court to allow oral offer of evidence.

As to the second and third assigned errors, the respondent court disposed as follows:

. . . We cannot help but accord with the lower court's finding on appellant Manilhig's fault. First, it is not disputed that the bus driven by appellant Manilhig was being pushed at the time of the unfortunate happening. It is of common knowledge and experience that when a vehicle is pushed to a jump-start, its initial movement is far from slow. Rather, its movement is abrupt and jerky and it takes a while before the vehicle attains normal speed. The lower court had thus enough basis to conclude, as it did, that the bumping of the victim was due to appellant Manilhig's actionable negligence and inattention. Prudence should have dictated against jump-starting the bus in a busy section of the city. Militating further against appellants' posture was the fact that the precarious pushing of subject bus to a jumpstart was done where the bus had to take a left turn, thereby making the move too risky to take. The possibility that pedestrians on Gomez Street, where the bus turned left and the victim was biking, would be unaware of a vehicle being pushed to a jumpstart, was too obvious to be overlooked. Verily, contrary to their bare arguments, there was gross negligence on the part of appellants.

The doctrine of last clear chance theorized upon by appellants, is inapplicable under the premises because the victim, who was bumped from behind, obviously, did not of course anticipate a Philtranco bus being pushed from a perpendicular street.

The respondent court sustained the awards of moral and exemplary damages and of attorney's fees, for they are warranted under Articles 2206, 2231, and 2208(1), respectively, of the Civil Code. Anent the solidary liability of petitioner Philtranco, the same finds support in Articles 2180 and 2194 of the said Code. The defense that Philtranco exercised the diligence of a good father of a family in the selection and supervision of its employees crumbles in the face of the gross negligence of its driver, which caused the untimely death of the victim.

Their motion for reconsideration having been denied, the petitioners came to us claiming that the Court of Appeals gravely erred







We resolved to give due course to the petition and required the parties to submit their respective memoranda after due consideration of the allegations, issues, and arguments adduced in the petition, the comment thereon by the private respondents, and the reply to the comment filed by the petitioners. The petitioners filed their memorandum in due time; while the private respondents filed theirs only on 3 January 1997, after their counsel was fined in the amount of P1,000 for failure to submit the required memorandum.

The first imputed error is without merit. The petitioners and their counsel, Atty. Jose Buban, were duly notified in open court of the order of the trial court of 10 February 1992 setting the case for hearing on 30 and 31 March 1992. 9 On both dates neither the petitioners nor their counsel appeared. In his motion for reconsideration, 10 Atty. Buban gave the following reasons for his failure to appear on the said hearings:

1. That when this case was called on March 27, 1992, counsel was very much indisposed due to the rigors of a very hectic campaign as he is a candidate for City Councilor of Tacloban; he wanted to leave for Calbayog City, but he was seized with slight fever on the morning of said date; but then, during the last hearing, counsel was made to understand that plaintiffs would formally offer their exhibits in writing, for which reason, counsel for defendants waited for a copy of said formal offer, but counsel did not receive any copy as counsel for plaintiffs opted to formally offer their exhibits orally in open court;

2. That counsel for defendants, in good faith believed that he would be given reasonable time within which to comment on the formal offer in writing, only to know that counsel for plaintiffs orally offered their exhibits in open court and that the same were admitted by the Honorable Court; and that when this case was called on March 30 and 31, 1992, the undersigned counsel honestly believed that said schedule would be cancelled, pending on the submission of the comments made by the defendants on the formal offer; but it was not so, as the exhibits were admitted in open court. 11

In its order of 26 May 1992, the trial court denied the motion, finding it to be "devoid of meritorious basis," as Atty. Buban could have filed a motion for postponement. 12 Atty. Buban then filed a motion to reconsider 13 the order of denial, which was likewise denied by the trial court in its order of 12 August 1992. 14 Nothing more was done by the petitioners after receipt of the order of 12 August 1992. A perusal of the first and second motions for reconsideration discloses absence of any claim that the petitioners have meritorious defenses. Clearly, therefore, the trial court committed no error in declaring the case submitted for decision on the basis of private respondent's evidence.

The second imputed error is without merit either.

Civil Case No. 373 is an action for damages based on quasi-delict 15 under Article 2176 and 2180 of the Civil Code against petitioner Manilhig and his employer, petitioner Philtranco, respectively. These articles pertinently provide:

Art. 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.

Art. 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.

xxx xxx xxx

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.

xxx xxx xxx

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.

We have consistently held that the liability of the registered owner of a public service vehicle, like petitioner Philtranco, 16 for damages arising from the tortious acts of the driver is primary, direct, and joint and several or solidary with the driver. 17 As to solidarity, Article 2194 expressly provides:

Art. 2194. The responsibility of two or more persons who are liable for a quasi-delict is solidary.

Since the employer's liability is primary, direct and solidary, its only recourse if the judgment for damages is satisfied by it is to recover what it has paid from its employee who committed the fault or negligence which gave rise to the action based on quasi-delict. Article 2181 of the Civil Code provides:

Art. 2181. Whoever pays for the damage caused by his dependents or employees may recover from the latter what he has paid or delivered in satisfaction of the claim.

There is, however, merit in the third imputed error.

The trial court erroneously fixed the "death indemnity" at P200,000. The private respondents defended the award in their Opposition to the Motion for Reconsideration by saying that "[i]n the case of Philippine Airlines, Inc. vs. Court of Appeals, 185 SCRA 110, our Supreme Court held that the award of damages for death is computed on the basis of the life expectancy of the deceased." In that case, the "death indemnity" was computed by multiplying the victim's gross annual income by his life expectancy, less his yearly living expenses. Clearly then, the "death indemnity" referred to was the additional indemnity for the loss of earning capacity mentioned in Article 2206(1) of the Civil Code, and not the basic indemnity for death mentioned in the first paragraph thereof. This article provides as follows:

Art. 2206. The amount of damages for death caused by a crime or quasi-delict shall be at least three thousand pesos, even though there may have been mitigating circumstances. In addition:

(1) The defendant shall be liable for the loss of the earning capacity of the deceased, and the indemnity shall be paid to the heirs of the latter; such indemnity shall in every case be assessed and awarded by the court, unless the deceased on account of permanent physical disability not caused by the defendant, had no earning capacity at the time of his death;

(2) If the deceased was obliged to give support according to the provisions of article 291, the recipient who is not an heir called to the decedent's inheritance by the law of testate or intestate succession, may demand support from the person causing the death, for a period of not exceeding five years, the exact duration to be fixed by the court;

(3) The spouse, legitimate and illegitimate descendants and ascendants of the deceased may demand moral damages for mental anguish by reason of the death of the deceased.

We concur with petitioners' view that the trial court intended the award of "P200,000.00 as death indemnity" not as compensation for loss of earning capacity. Even if the trial court intended the award as indemnity for loss of earning capacity, the same must be struck out for lack of basis. There is no evidence on the victim's earning capacity and life expectancy.

Only indemnity for death under the opening paragraph of Article 2206 is due, the amount of which has been fixed by current jurisprudence at P50,000. 18

The award of P1 million for moral damages to the heirs of Ramon Acuesta has no sufficient basis and is excessive and unreasonable. This was based solely on the testimony of one of the heirs, Atty. Julio Acuesta, contained in his "Direct Testimony . . . As Plaintiff, conducted by Himself," 19 to wit:

Q. What was your feeling or reaction as a result of the death of your father Ramon A. Acuesta?

A. We, the family members, have suffered much from wounded feelings, moral shock, mental anguish, sleepless nights, to which we are entitled to moral damages at the reasonable amount of ONE MILLION (P1,000,000.00) PESOS or at the sound discretion of this Hon. Court.

Since the other heirs of the deceased did not take the witness stand, the trial court had no basis for its award of moral damages to those who did not testify thereon.

Moral damages are emphatically not intended to enrich a plaintiff at the expense of the defendant. They are awarded only to allow the former to obtain means, diversion, or amusements that will serve to alleviate the moral suffering he has undergone due to the defendant's culpable action and must, perforce, be proportional to the suffering inflicted. 20 In light of the circumstances in this case, an award of P50,000 for moral damages is in order.

The award of P500,000 for exemplary damages is also excessive. In quasi-delicts, exemplary damages may be awarded if the party at fault acted with gross negligence. 21 The Court of Appeals found that there was gross negligence on the part of petitioner Manilhig. 22 Under Article 2229 of the Civil Code, exemplary damages are imposed by way of example or correction for the public good, in addition to the moral, temperate, liquidated, or compensatory damages. Considering its purpose, it must be fair and reasonable in every case and should not be awarded to unjustly enrich a prevailing party. In the instant case, an award of P50,000 for the purpose would be adequate, fair, and reasonable.

Finally, the award of P50,000 for attorney's fees must be reduced. The general rule is that attorney's fees cannot be recovered as part of damages because of the policy that no premium should be placed on the right to
litigate. 23 Stated otherwise, the grant of attorney's fees as part of damages is the exception rather than the rule, as counsel's fees are not awarded every time a party prevails in a suit. 24 Such attorney's fees can be awarded in the cases enumerated in Article 2208 of the Civil Code, and in all cases it must be reasonable. In the instant case, the counsel for the plaintiffs is himself a co-plaintiff; it is then unlikely that he demanded from his brothers and sisters P100,000 as attorney's fees as alleged in the complaint and testified to by
him. 25 He did not present any written contract for his fees. He is, however, entitled to a reasonable amount for attorney's fees, considering that exemplary damages are awarded. Among the instances mentioned in Article 2208 of the Civil Code when attorney's fees may be recovered is "(1) when exemplary damages are awarded." Under the circumstances in this case, an award of P25,000 for attorney's fees is reasonable.

The petitioners did not contest the award for actual damages fixed by the trial court. Hence, such award shall stand.

IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the petition is hereby partly granted and the challenged decision of CA-G.R. CV No. 41140 is AFFIRMED, subject to modifications as to the damages awarded, which are reduced as follows:

(a) Death indemnity, from P200,000 to P50,000;

(b) Moral damages, from P1 million to P50,000;

(c) Exemplary damages, from P500,000 to P50,000; and

(d) Attorney's fees, from P50,000 to P25,000.

No pronouncements as to costs in this instance.


Narvasa, C.J., Melo and Panganiban, JJ., concur.

Francisco, J., is on leave.


1 Rollo, 28-36. Per Purisima, F., J., with Rasul, J., and Adefuin-de la Cruz, B.A., JJ., concurring.

2 Original Record (OR), 169-184. Per Judge Clemente C. Rosales.

3 OR, 1-7.

4 OR, 177-178.

5 Id., 18-22.

6 OR, 132.

7 OR, 184; Rollo, 32.

8 Rollo, CA-G.R. CV No. 41140, 38.

9 OR, 129.

10 Id., 135-136.

11 OR, 135.

12 Id., 145.

13 Id., 148.

14 Id., 156.

15 Also called culpa aquiliana or culpa extra-contractual, V ARTURO M. TOLENTINO, CIVIL CODE OF THE PHILIPPINES 591-592 (1992) (hereafter V TOLENTINO).

16 The allegation in the complaint that it is "a privately owned big bus company" (OR, 1) is admitted without qualification in the Answer (id., 18.)

17 Gelisan v. Alday, 154 SCRA 388, 394 [1987], Vargas v. Langcay, 116 Phil. 478, 481 [1962]. See V TOLENTINO 616; V EDGARDO L. PARAS, et al., CIVIL CODE OF THE PHILIPPINES 1129, 1154 (13th ed. 1995).

18 People v. Galas, G.R. No. 114007, 24 September 1996; People v. Tabag, G.R. No. 116511, 12 February 1997, 11.

19 Exh. "K," OR, 119.

20 Grand Union Supermarket, Inc. v. Espino, 94 SCRA 953, 966 [1979]; R and B Surety & Insurance Co. v. Intermediate Appellate Court, 129 SCRA 736, 745 [1984]; Prudenciado v. Alliance Transport System, Inc. 148 SCRA 440, 449 [1987]; Radio Communications of the Phils., Inc. v. Rodriguez, 182 SCRA 899, 907 [1990]; Visayan Sawmill Company, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 219 SCRA 378, 392 [1993].

21 Article 2231, New Civil Code.

22 Rollo, 35.

23 Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. of the Phil, v. Ines Chaves Co., 18 SCRA 356, 358 [1966]; Philippine Air Lines v. Miano, 242 SCRA 235, 240 [1995].

24 Scott Consultants and Resource Development Corp. v. Court of Appeals, 242 SCRA 393, 406 [1995].

25 OR, 6; Exh. "K," id, 121.

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