• Registered owner responsible for road accidents involving his car

    Persida Acosta

    Persida Acosta

    Dear PAO,
    I am a victim of a hit-and-run incident. Fortunately, a concerned citizen saw the license plate of the car responsible for my injuries. Upon verification, I found out that the car belongs to Mr. Santos. I demanded from him through a letter for the indemnification of my injuries, but the he denied my claim stating that I should run after the one who was driving the car when the accident happened. I am confused as to who shall be responsible for my injuries. Please advise me.    

    Dear Barik,
    You can file a claim for damages against the registered car owner. This is pursuant to Article 2176 of the Civil Code of the Philippines, which provides, “Whoever by act or omission causes damage to another, there being fault of 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.” In relation to this, Article 2180 of the same code states, “The obligation imposed by Article 2176 is demandable not only for one’s own act or omissions, but also for those of persons for whom one is responsible.”

    Correlative to the above-mentioned provisions of law is the ruling of the Supreme Court in Filcar vs Espinas (G.R. No. 174156, June 20, 2012), where the latter elaborated the liability of motor vehicle owners:

    “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 [Court of Appeals] 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 therefore can be fixed on a definite individual, the registered owner. Instances are numerous 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. 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.

    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.”

    Again, 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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    1. emelyn valenzona on

      i have sent an email to dearpao@manilatimes.net yesterday. the subject is WHO HAS THE RIGHT TO COMPLAIN? i wont mind if my concern wouldn’t be posted , as long as i can hear from you the soonest . thank you !

    2. Frank A. Tucker on

      ONLY in the PHILIPPINES !

      This is a most unfortunate law or interpretation thereof ! This is what “Liability insurance’ is for, which the registered owner must have. IF said owner employs driver(s) they SHOULD also have coverage under the owner’s policy.