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PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

FIRST DIVISION

[G.R. No. 143363. February 6, 2002.]

ST. MARY’S ACADEMY, Petitioner, v. WILLIAM CARPITANOS and LUCIA S. CARPITANOS, GUADA DANIEL, JAMES DANIEL II, JAMES DANIEL, SR., and VIVENCIO VILLANUEVA, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N


PARDO, J.:


The Case


The case is an appeal via certiorari from the decision 1 of the Court of Appeals as well as the resolution denying reconsideration, holding petitioner liable for damages arising from an accident that resulted in the death of a student who had joined a campaign to visit the public schools in Dipolog City to solicit enrollment.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

The Facts


The facts, as found by the Court of Appeals, are as follows:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph

"Claiming damages for the death of their only son, Sherwin Carpitanos, spouses William Carpitanos and Lucia Carpitanos filed on June 9, 1995 a case against James Daniel II and his parents, James Daniel Sr. and Guada Daniel, the vehicle owner, Vivencio Villanueva and St. Mary’s Academy before the Regional Trial Court of Dipolog City.

"On 20 February 1997, Branch 6 of the Regional Trial Court of Dipolog City rendered its decision the dispositive portion of which reads as follows:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph

"‘WHEREFORE, PREMISES CONSIDERED, judgment is hereby rendered in the following manner:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

1. Defendant St. Mary’s Academy of Dipolog City, is hereby ordered to pay plaintiffs William Carpitanos and Luisa Carpitanos, the following sums of money:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

a. FIFTY THOUSAND PESOS (P50,000.00) indemnity for the loss of life of Sherwin S. Carpitanos;

b. FORTY THOUSAND PESOS (P40,000.00) actual damages incurred by plaintiffs for burial and related expenses;

c. TEN THOUSAND PESOS (P10,000.00) for attorney’s fees;

d. FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND PESOS (P500,000.00) for moral damages; and to pay costs.

2. Their liability being only subsidiary, defendants James Daniel, Sr. and Guada Daniel are hereby ordered to pay herein plaintiffs the amount of damages above-stated in the event of insolvency of principal obligor St. Mary’s Academy of Dipolog City;

3. Defendant James Daniel II, being a minor at the time of the commission of the tort and who was under special parental authority of defendant St. Mary’s Academy, is ABSOLVED from paying the above-stated damages, same being adjudged against defendants St. Mary’s Academy, and subsidiarily, against his parents;

4. Defendant Vivencio Villanueva is hereby ABSOLVED of any liability. His counterclaim not being in order as earlier discussed in this decision, is hereby DISMISSED.

IT IS SO ORDERED." ‘ (Decision, pp. 32-33; Records, pp. 205-206)."cralaw virtua1aw library

"From the records it appears that from 13 to 20 February 1995, Defendant-Appellant St. Mary’s Academy of Dipolog City conducted an enrollment drive for the school year 1995-1996. A facet of the enrollment campaign was the visitation of schools from where prospective enrollees were studying. As a student of St. Mary’s Academy, Sherwin Carpitanos was part of the campaigning group. Accordingly, on the fateful day, Sherwin, along with other high school students were riding in a Mitsubishi jeep owned by defendant Vivencio Villanueva on their way to Larayan Elementary School, Larayan, Dapitan City. The jeep was driven by James Daniel II then 15 years old and a student of the same school. Allegedly, the latter drove the jeep in a reckless manner and as a result the jeep turned turtle.

"Sherwin Carpitanos died as a result of the injuries he sustained from the accident." 2

In due time, petitioner St. Mary’s Academy appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals. 3

On February 29, 2000, the Court of Appeals promulgated a decision reducing the actual damages to P25,000.00 but otherwise affirming the decision a quo, in toto. 4

On February 29, 2000, petitioner St. Mary’s Academy filed a motion for reconsideration of the decision. However, on May 22, 2000, the Court of Appeals denied the motion. 5

Hence, this appeal. 6

The Issues


1) Whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding the petitioner liable for damages for the death of Sherwin Carpitanos.

2) Whether the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the award of moral damages against the petitioner.

The Court’s Ruling


We reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals held petitioner St. Mary’s Academy liable for the death of Sherwin Carpitanos under Articles 218 7 and 219 8 of the Family Code, pointing out that petitioner was negligent in allowing a minor to drive and in not having a teacher accompany the minor students in the jeep.

Under Article 218 of the Family Code, the following shall have special parental authority over a minor child while under their supervision, instruction or custody: (1) the school, its administrators and teachers; or (2) the individual, entity or institution engaged in child care. This special parental authority and responsibility applies to all authorized activities, whether inside or outside the premises of the school, entity or institution. Thus, such authority and responsibility applies to field trips, excursions and other affairs of the pupils and students outside the school premises whenever authorized by the school or its teachers. 9

Under Article 219 of the Family Code, if the person under custody is a minor, those exercising special parental authority are principally and solidarily liable for damages caused by the acts or omissions of the unemancipated minor while under their supervision, instruction, or custody. 10

However, for petitioner to be liable, there must be a finding that the act or omission considered as negligent was the proximate cause of the injury caused because the negligence, must have a causal connection to the accident. 11

"In order that there may be a recovery for an injury, however, it must be shown that the ‘injury for which recovery is sought must be the legitimate consequence of the wrong done; the connection between the negligence and the injury must be a direct and natural sequence of events, unbroken by intervening efficient causes.’ In other words, the negligence must be the proximate cause of the injury. For, ‘negligence, no matter in what it consists, cannot create a right of action unless it is the proximate cause of the injury complained of.’ And ‘the proximate cause of an injury is that cause, which, in natural and continuous sequence, unbroken by any efficient intervening cause, produces the injury, and without which the result would not have occurred.”’ 12

In this case, the respondents failed to show that the negligence of petitioner was the proximate cause of the death of the victim.

Respondents Daniel spouses and Villanueva admitted that the immediate cause of the accident was not the negligence of petitioner or the reckless driving of James Daniel II, but the detachment of the steering wheel guide of the jeep.

In their comment to the petition, respondents Daniel spouses and Villanueva admitted the documentary exhibits, establishing that the cause of the accident was the detachment of the steering wheel guide of the jeep. Hence, the cause of the accident was not the recklessness of James Daniel II but the mechanical defect in the jeep of Vivencio Villanueva. Respondents, including the spouses Carpitanos, parents of the deceased Sherwin Carpitanos, did not dispute the report and testimony of the traffic investigator who stated that the cause of the accident was the detachment of the steering wheel guide that caused the jeep to turn turtle.

Significantly, respondents did not present any evidence to show that the proximate cause of the accident was the negligence of the school authorities, or the reckless driving of James Daniel II. Hence, the respondents’ reliance on Article 219 of the Family Code that "those given the authority and responsibility under the preceding Article shall be principally and solidarily liable for damages caused by acts or omissions of the unemancipated minor" was unfounded.

Further, there was no evidence that petitioner school allowed the minor James Daniel II to drive the jeep of respondent Vivencio Villanueva. It was Ched Villanueva, grandson of respondent Vivencio Villanueva, who had possession and control of the jeep. He was driving the vehicle and he allowed James Daniel II, a minor, to drive the jeep at the time of the accident.

Hence, liability for the accident, whether caused by the negligence of the minor driver or mechanical detachment of the steering wheel guide of the jeep, must be pinned on the minor’s parents primarily. The negligence of petitioner St. Mary’s Academy was only a remote cause of the accident. Between the remote cause and the injury, there intervened the negligence of the minor’s parents or the detachment of the steering wheel guide of the jeep.

"The proximate cause of an injury is that cause, which, in natural and continuous sequence, unbroken by any efficient intervening cause, produces the injury, and without which the result would not have occurred." 13

Considering that the negligence of the minor driver or the detachment of the steering wheel guide of the jeep owned by respondent Villanueva was an event over which petitioner St. Mary’s Academy had no control, and which was the proximate cause of the accident, petitioner may not be held liable for the death resulting from such accident.

Consequently, we find that petitioner likewise cannot be held liable for moral damages in the amount of P500,000.00 awarded by the trial court and affirmed by the Court of Appeals.

Though incapable of pecuniary computation, moral damages may be recovered if they are the proximate result of the defendant’s wrongful act or omission. 14 In this case, the proximate cause of the accident was not attributable to petitioner.

For the reason that petitioner was not directly liable for the accident, the decision of the Court of Appeals ordering petitioner to pay death indemnity to respondent Carpitanos must be deleted. Moreover, the grant of attorney’s fees as part of damages is the exception rather than the rule. 15 The power of the court to award attorney’s fees under Article 2208 of the Civil Code demands factual, legal and equitable justification. 16 Thus, the grant of attorney’s fees against the petitioner is likewise deleted.

Incidentally, there was no question that the registered owner of the vehicle was respondent Villanueva. He never denied and in fact admitted this fact. We have held that the registered owner of any vehicle, even if not used for public service, would primarily be responsible to the public or to third persons for injuries caused the latter while the vehicle was being driven on the highways or streets." 17 Hence, with the overwhelming evidence presented by petitioner and the respondent Daniel spouses that the accident occurred because of the detachment of the steering wheel guide of the jeep, it is not the school, but the registered owner of the vehicle who shall be held responsible for damages for the death of Sherwin Carpitanos.

The Fallo

WHEREFORE, the Court REVERSES and SETS ASIDE the decision of the Court of Appeals 18 and that of the trial court. 19 The Court remands the case to the trial court for determination of the liability of defendants, excluding petitioner St. Mary’s Academy, Dipolog City.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

No costs.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Kapunan and Ynares-Santiago, JJ., concur.

Puno, J., in the result.

Endnotes:



1. In CA-G.R. CV No. 56728, promulgated on February 29, 2000, Reyes, Jr., J., ponente, Martin, Jr. and Brawner, JJ., concurring.

2. Rollo, pp. 53-55.

3. Docketed as CA-G.R. CV No. 56728.

4. Petition, Annex "A", Rollo, pp. 52-70.

5. Petition, Annex "B", Rollo, pp. 72-73.

6. Petition filed on July 17, 2000, Rollo, pp. 9-48. On July 16, 2001, we gave due course to the petition, Rollo, pp. 202-203.

7. Article 218. The School, its administrators and teachers, or the individual, entity or institution engaged in child care shall have special parental authority and responsibility over the minor child while under their supervision, instruction or custody. Authority and responsibility shall apply to all authorized activities whether inside or outside the premises of the school, entity or institution.

8. Article 219. Those given the authority and responsibility under the preceding Article shall be principally and solidarily liable for damages caused by the acts or omissions of the unemancipated minor. The parents, judicial guardians or the persons exercising substitute parental authority over said minor shall be subsidiarily liable. The respective liabilities of those referred to in the preceding paragraph shall not apply if it is proved that they exercised the proper diligence required under the particular circumstances.

9. Handbook On The Family Code of the Philippines, Alicia V. Sempio-Diy (1997), p. 344.

10. The Family Code of the Philippines Annotated, Rufus B. Rodriguez (1990), p. 505.

11. Sanitary Steam Laundry, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 360 Phil. 199, 208 [1998].

12. Cruz v. Court of Appeals, 346 Phil. 872, 886 [1997].

13. Ford Philippines v. Citibank, G. R. No. 128604, January 29, 2001; Bank of the Philippine Islands v. Court of Appeals, 326 SCRA 641, 659 [2000]; Bataclan v. Medina, 102 Phil. 181, 186 [1957].

14. Article 2217 of the Civil Code.

15. Philtranco Service Enterprises, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 340 Phil. 98, 111 [1997].

16. Morales v. Court of Appeals, 340 Phil. 397, 422 [1997].

17. Aguilar Sr. v. Commercial Savings Bank, G. R. No. 128705, June 29, 2001; Erezo v. Jepte, 102 Phil. 103, 107 [1957].

18. CA-G.R. No. CV No. 56728.

19. In Civil Case No. 4924.

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