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G.R. No. 158995 - L.G. FOODS CORPORATION, ET AL. v. HON. PHILADELFA B. PAGAPONG-AGRAVIADOR, ET AL.

G.R. No. 158995 - L.G. FOODS CORPORATION, ET AL. v. HON. PHILADELFA B. PAGAPONG-AGRAVIADOR, ET AL.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

SECOND DIVISION

[G.R. NO. 158995 : September 26, 2006]

L.G. FOODS CORPORATION and VICTORINO GABOR, Vice-President and General Manager, Petitioners, v. HON. PHILADELFA B. PAGAPONG-AGRAVIADOR, in her capacity as Presiding Judge of Regional Trial Court, Branch 43, Bacolod City, and SPS. FLORENTINO and THERESA VALLEJERA, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

GARCIA, J.:

Assailed and sought to be set aside in this Petition for Review on Certiorari is the Decision1 dated April 25, 2003 of the Court of Appeals (CA), as reiterated in its Resolution of July 10, 2003,2 in CA-G.R. SP No. 67600, affirming an earlier Order of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Bacolod City, Branch 43, which denied the petitioners' motion to dismiss in Civil Case No. 99-10845, an action for damages arising from a vehicular accident thereat instituted by the herein private respondents - the spouses Florentino Vallejera and Theresa Vallejera - against the petitioners.

The antecedent facts may be briefly stated as follows:

On February 26, 1996, Charles Vallereja, a 7-year old son of the spouses Florentino Vallejera and Theresa Vallejera, was hit by a Ford Fiera van owned by the petitioners and driven at the time by their employee, Vincent Norman Yeneza y Ferrer. Charles died as a result of the accident.

In time, an Information for Reckless Imprudence Resulting to Homicide was filed against the driver before the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC), Bacolod City, docketed as Criminal Case No. 67787, entitled People of the Philippines v. Vincent Norman Yeneza.

Unfortunately, before the trial could be concluded, the accused driver committed suicide, evidently bothered by conscience and remorse. On account thereof, the MTCC, in its order of September 30, 1998, dismissed the criminal case.

On June 23, 1999, in the RTC of Bacolod City, the spouses Vallejera filed a complaint3 for damages against the petitioners as employers of the deceased driver, basically alleging that as such employers, they failed to exercise due diligence in the selection and supervision of their employees. Thereat docketed as Civil Case No. 99-10845, the complaint was raffled to Branch 43 of the court.

In their Answer with Compulsory Counterclaim,4 the petitioners as defendants denied liability for the death of the Vallejeras' 7-year old son, claiming that they had exercised the required due diligence in the selection and supervision of their employees, including the deceased driver. They thus prayed in their Answer for the dismissal of the complaint for lack of cause of action on the part of the Vallejera couple.

During pre-trial, the defendant petitioners insisted that their dismissal prayer be resolved. Hence, the trial court required them to file within ten days a memorandum of authorities supportive of their position.

Instead, however, of the required memorandum of authorities, the defendant petitioners filed a Motion to Dismiss, principally arguing that the complaint is basically a "claim for subsidiary liability against an employer" under the provision of Article 1035 of the Revised Penal Code. Prescinding therefrom, they contend that there must first be a judgment of conviction against their driver as a condition sine qua non to hold them liable. Ergo, since the driver died during the pendency of the criminal action, the sine qua non condition for their subsidiary liability was not fulfilled, hence the of lack of cause of action on the part of the plaintiffs. They further argue that since the plaintiffs did not make a reservation to institute a separate action for damages when the criminal case was filed, the damage suit in question is thereby deemed instituted with the criminal action. which was already dismissed.

In an Order dated September 4, 2001,6 the trial court denied the motion to dismiss for lack of merit and set the case for pre-trial. With their motion for reconsideration having been denied by the same court in its subsequent order7 of September 26, 2001, the petitioners then went on certiorari to the CA in CA-G.R. SP No. 67600, imputing grave abuse of discretion on the part of the trial judge in refusing to dismiss the basic complaint for damages in Civil Case No. 99-10845.

In the herein assailed decision8 dated April 25, 2003, the CA denied the petition and upheld the trial court. Partly says the CA in its challenged issuance:

xxx       xxx       xxx

It is clear that the complaint neither represents nor implies that the responsibility charged was the petitioner's subsidiary liability under Art. 103, Revised Penal Code. As pointed out [by the trial court] in the Order of September 4, 2001, the complaint does not even allege the basic elements for such a liability, like the conviction of the accused employee and his insolvency. Truly enough, a civil action to enforce subsidiary liability separate and distinct from the criminal action is even unnecessary.

xxx       xxx       xxx

Specifically, Civil Case No. 99-10845 exacts responsibility for fault or negligence under Art. 2176, Civil Code, which is entirely separate and distinct from the civil liability arising from negligence under the Revised Penal Code. Verily, therefore, the liability under Art. 2180, Civil Code, is direct and immediate, and not conditioned upon prior recourse against the negligent employee or prior showing of the latter's insolvency. (Underscoring in the original.)

In time, the petitioners moved for a reconsideration but their motion was denied by the CA in its resolution9 of July 10, 2003. Hence, the petitioners' present recourse on their submission that the appellate court committed reversible error in upholding the trial court's denial of their motion to dismiss.

We DENY.

As the Court sees it, the sole issue for resolution is whether the spouses Vallejeras' cause of action in Civil Case No. 99-10845 is founded on Article 103 of the Revised Penal Code, as maintained by the petitioners, or derived from Article 218010 of the Civil Code, as ruled by the two courts below.

It thus behooves us to examine the allegations of the complaint for damages in Civil Case No. 99-10845. That complaint alleged, inter alia, as follows:

xxx       xxx       xxx

3. That defendant [LG Food Corporation] is the registered owner of a Ford Fiera Van with Plate No. NMS 881 and employer sometime February of 1996 of one Vincent Norman Yeneza y Ferrer, a salesman of said corporation;

4. That sometime February 26, 1996 at around 2:00 P.M. at Rosario St., Bacolod City, the minor son of said plaintiffs [now respondents], Charles Vallejera, 7 years old, was hit and bumped by above-described vehicle then driven by said employee, Vincent Norman Yeneza y Ferrer;

5. That the mishap was due to the gross fault and negligence of defendant's employee, who drove said vehicle, recklessly, negligently and at a high speed without regard to traffic condition and safety of other road users and likewise to the fault and negligence of the owner employer, herein defendants LG Food Corporation who failed to exercise due diligence in the selection and supervision of his employee, Vincent Norman Yeneza y Ferrer;

6. That as a result of said incident, plaintiffs' son suffered multiple body injuries which led to his untimely demise on that very day;

7. That a criminal case was filed against the defendant's employee, docketed as Criminal Case No. 67787, (earlier filed as Crim. Case No. 96-17570 before RTC) before MTC-Branch III, entitled "People v. Yeneza" for "Reckless Imprudence resulting to Homicide," but the same was dismissed because pending litigation, then remorse-stricken [accused] committed suicide;

x x x

8. That the injuries and complications as well as the resultant death suffered by the late minor Charles Vallejera were due to the negligence and imprudence of defendant's employee;

9. That defendant LG Foods Corporation is civilly liable for the negligence/imprudence of its employee since it failed to exercise the necessary diligence required of a good father of the family in the selection and supervision of his employee, Vincent Norman Yeneza y Ferrer which diligence if exercised, would have prevented said incident. (Bracketed words and emphasis ours.)

Nothing in the foregoing allegations suggests, even remotely, that the herein petitioners are being made to account for their subsidiary liability under Article 103 of the Revised Penal Code. As correctly pointed out by the trial court in its order of September 4, 2001 denying the petitioners' Motion to Dismiss, the complaint did not even aver the basic elements for the subsidiary liability of an employer under Article 103 of the Revised Penal Code, such as the prior conviction of the driver in the criminal case filed against him nor his insolvency.

Admittedly, the complaint did not explicitly state that plaintiff Vallejeras were suing the defendant petitioners for damages based on quasi-delict. Clear it is, however, from the allegations of the complaint that quasi-delict was their choice of remedy against the petitioners. To stress, the plaintiff spouses alleged in their complaint gross fault and negligence on the part of the driver and the failure of the petitioners, as employers, to exercise due diligence in the selection and supervision of their employees. The spouses further alleged that the petitioners are civilly liable for the negligence/imprudence of their driver since they failed to exercise the necessary diligence required of a good father of the family in the selection and supervision of their employees, which diligence, if exercised, could have prevented the vehicular accident that resulted to the death of their 7-year old son.

Section 2, Rule 2, of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure defines cause of action as the "act or omission by which a party violates the right of another." Such act or omission gives rise to an obligation which may come from law, contracts, quasi contracts, delicts or quasi-delicts.11

Corollarily, an act or omission causing damage to another may give rise to two separate civil liabilities on the part of the offender, i.e., 1) civil liability ex delicto;12 and 2) independent civil liabilities, such as those (a) not arising from an act or omission complained of as felony (e.g., culpa contractual or obligations arising from law;13 the intentional torts;14 and culpa aquiliana15 ); or (b) where the injured party is granted a right to file an action independent and distinct from the criminal action.16 Either of these two possible liabilities may be enforced against the offender.17

Stated otherwise, victims of negligence or their heirs have a choice between an action to enforce the civil liability arising from culpa criminal under Article 100 of the Revised Penal Code, and an action for quasi-delict (culpa aquiliana) under Articles 2176 to 2194 of the Civil Code. If, as here, the action chosen is for quasi-delict, the plaintiff may hold the employer liable for the negligent act of its employee, subject to the employer's defense of exercise of the diligence of a good father of the family. On the other hand, if the action chosen is for culpa criminal, the plaintiff can hold the employer subsidiarily liable only upon proof of prior conviction of its employee.18

Article 116119 of the Civil Code provides that civil obligation arising from criminal offenses shall be governed by penal laws subject to the provision of Article 217720 and of the pertinent provision of Chapter 2, Preliminary Title on Human Relation, and of Title XVIII of this Book, regulating damages. Plainly, Article 2177 provides for the alternative remedies the plaintiff may choose from in case the obligation has the possibility of arising indirectly from the delict/crime or directly from quasi-delict/tort. The choice is with the plaintiff who makes known his cause of action in his initiatory pleading or complaint,21 and not with the defendant who can not ask for the dismissal of the plaintiff's cause of action or lack of it based on the defendant's perception that the plaintiff should have opted to file a claim under Article 103 of the Revised Penal Code.

Under Article 2180 of the Civil Code, the liability of the employer is direct or immediate. It is not conditioned upon prior recourse against the negligent employee and a prior showing of insolvency of such employee.22

Here, the complaint sufficiently alleged that the death of the couple's minor son was caused by the negligent act of the petitioners' driver; and that the petitioners themselves were civilly liable for the negligence of their driver for failing "to exercise the necessary diligence required of a good father of the family in the selection and supervision of [their] employee, the driver, which diligence, if exercised, would have prevented said accident."

Had the respondent spouses elected to sue the petitioners based on Article 103 of the Revised Penal Code, they would have alleged that the guilt of the driver had been proven beyond reasonable doubt; that such accused driver is insolvent; that it is the subsidiary liability of the defendant petitioners as employers to pay for the damage done by their employee (driver) based on the principle that every person criminally liable is also civilly liable.23 Since there was no conviction in the criminal case against the driver, precisely because death intervened prior to the termination of the criminal proceedings, the spouses' recourse was, therefore, to sue the petitioners for their direct and primary liability based on quasi-delict.

Besides, it is worthy to note that the petitioners, in their Answer with Compulsory Counter-Claim,24 repeatedly made mention of Article 2180 of the Civil Code and anchored their defense on their allegation that "they had exercised due diligence in the selection and supervision of [their] employees." The Court views this defense as an admission that indeed the petitioners acknowledged the private respondents' cause of action as one for quasi-delict under Article 2180 of the Civil Code.

All told, Civil Case No. 99-10845 is a negligence suit brought under Article 2176 - Civil Code to recover damages primarily from the petitioners as employers responsible for their negligent driver pursuant to Article 2180 of the Civil Code. 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. Thus, the employer is liable for damages caused by his employees and household helpers acting within the scope of their assigned tasks, even though the former is not engaged in any business or industry.

Citing Maniago v. CA,25 petitioner would argue that Civil Case No. 99-10845 should have been dismissed for failure of the respondent spouses to make a reservation to institute a separate civil action for damages when the criminal case against the driver was filed.

The argument is specious.

To start with, the petitioners' reliance on Maniago is obviously misplaced. There, the civil case was filed while the criminal case against the employee was still pending. Here, the criminal case against the employee driver was prematurely terminated due to his death. Precisely, Civil Case No. 99-10845 was filed by the respondent spouses because no remedy can be obtained by them against the petitioners with the dismissal of the criminal case against their driver during the pendency thereof.

The circumstance that no reservation to institute a separate civil action for damages was made when the criminal case was filed is of no moment for the simple reason that the criminal case was dismissed without any pronouncement having been made therein. In reality, therefor, it is as if there was no criminal case to speak of in the first place. And for the petitioners to insist for the conviction of their driver as a condition sine qua non to hold them liable for damages is to ask for the impossible.

IN VIEW WHEREOF, the instant petition is DENIED for lack of merit.

Costs against the petitioners.

SO ORDERED.

Puno, Chairperson, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Corona, Azcuna, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:


1 Penned by Associate Justice Lucas P. Bersamin with Associate Justices Ruben T. Reyes (now Presiding Justice) and Elvi John Asuncion, concurring. Rollo, pp. 17-22.

2 Id. at 23.

3 Id. at 93-98.

4 Id. at 85-91.

5 Article 103. Subsidiary civil liability of other persons. - The subsidiary liability established in the next preceding article shall also apply to employers, teachers, persons and corporations engaged in any kind of industry for felonies committed by their servants, pupils, workmen, apprentices, or employees in the discharge of their duties.

6 Rollo, pp. 71-74.

7 Id. at 65.

8 Supra note 1.

9 Rollo, p. 23.

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

x x x

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

x x x

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. (1903a)

11 Article 1157, Civil Code of the Philippines.

12 Article 100, Revised Penal Code.

13 Article 31, Civil Code.

14 Articles 32 and 34, Civil Code.

15 Article 2176, Civil Code.

16 Article 33, Civil Code.

17 Cancio, Jr. v. Isip, G.R. No. 133978, November 12, 2002, 391 SCRA 393.

18 Joaquin, et al. v. Aniceto, et al., 120 Phil. 1100 (1964).

19 ARTICLE 1161. Civil obligations arising from criminal offenses shall be governed by the penal laws, subject to the provisions of article 2177, and of the pertinent provisions of Chapter 2, Preliminary Title, on Human Relations, and of Title XVIII of this Book, regulating damages. (1092a)

20 ARTICLE 2177. Responsibility for fault or negligence under the preceding article is entirely separate and distinct from the civil liability arising from negligence under the Penal Code. But the plaintiff cannot recover damages twice for the same act or omission of the defendant. (n)

21 Section 3, Rule 6, 1997 Rules on Criminal Procedure.

22 Kapalaran Bus Lines v. Coronado, G.R. No. 85331, August 25, 1989, 176 SCRA 792.

23 Article 100, Revised Penal Code.

24 Supra note 4.

25 G.R. 104392, February 20, 1996, 253 SCRA 674.

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