• Liability of a bus owner


    Persida Acosta

    Dear PAO,
    I was hit by a bus driven by Timmy. The latter admitted that he was sleepy when the incident happened. I talked to Timmy and Lyra (bus operator) regarding the possible compensation for my injuries, but Lyra claimed that she is not the real owner of the bus. According to her, the real owner of the bus is Alex, and the latter is only using her name in order to operate a public utility bus (PUB). This setup is called a “kabit system” among public utility bus operators. Timmy signified his intention to help; however, I know that he does not have the financial capacity. The certificate of registration of the PUB reflects the name of Lyra instead of Alex. Who will be liable for my injuries?

    Dear Erickson,
    Timmy, the driver, is negligent because he was sleepy when the incident happened. Timmy may be made liable for the injuries you sustained when you were hit by the public utility bus he was driving. This is pursuant to Article 2176 of the New Civil Code of the Philippines, which states that “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 quasi-delict and is governed by the provisions of this chapter.”

    Relative thereto, Lyra may also be made liable under the provision of Article 2180 of the same code, which provides:

    “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

    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.”

    Lyra, being the registered owner, cannot escape liability by claiming that Alex is the actual owner of the bus. Her name appears as owner in the Certificate of Registration; hence, there is a presumption that she is the owner. In the case of Mendoza and Lim vs Spouses Gomez (GR No. 160110, June 18, 2014), the Supreme Court through former Associate Justice Jose P. Perez stated that:

    “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 “snare and delusion,” if courts will 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 place a “middleman” between them and the public, and escape liability by the manner in which they recompense their servants.”

    Applying the above-quoted decision in your case, Lyra cannot pass her liability to Alex, even if the said public utility bus is operating under the “kabit system.” She is its owner, because it was registered in her name. She may be liable also for the damages caused by her negligent driver pursuant to Article 2180 of the New Civil Code

    We find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated. We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.

    Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net


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