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[ GR No. L-9605, Sep 30, 1957 ]



102 Phil. 103

[ G. R. No. L-9605, September 30, 1957 ]




Appeal from a judgment of the Court of First Instance of Manila ordering defendant to pay plaintiff Gaudioso Erezo P3,000 on the death of Ernesto Erezo, son of plaintiff Gaudioso Erezo.

Defendant-appellant is the registered owner of a six by six truck bearing plate No. TC-1253.  On August 9, 1949, while the same was being driven by Rodolfo Espino y Garcia, it collided with a taxicab at the intersection of San Andres and Dakota Streets, Manila.  As the truck went off the street, it hit Ernesto Erezo and another, and the former suffered injuries, as a result of which he died. The driver was prosecuted for homicide through reckless negligence in criminal case No. 10663 of the Court of First Instance of Manila. The accused pleaded guilty and was sentenced to suffer imprisonment and to pay the heirs of Ernesto Erezo the sum of P3,000.   As the amount of the judgment could not be enforced against him, plaintiff brought this action against the registered owner of the truck, the defendant-appellant. The circumstances material to the case are stated by the court in its decision:
"The defendant does not deny that at the time of the fatal accident the cargo truck driven by Rodolfo Espino y Garcia was registered in his name. He, however, claims that the vehicle belonged to the Port Brokerage, of which he was the broker at the time of the accident.  He explained, and his explanation was corroborated by Policarpio Franco, the manager of the corporation, that the trucks of the corporation were registered in his name is a convenient arrangement so as to enable the corporation to pay the registration fee with his backpay as a pre-war government employee.  Franco, however, admitted that the arrangement was not known to the Motor Vehicles Office."
The trial court held that as the defendant-appellant represented himself to be the owner of the truck and the Motor Vehicles Office, relying on his representation, registered the vehicle in his name, the Government and all persons affected by the representation had the right to rely on his declaration of ownership and registration. It, therefore, held that defendant-appellant is liable because he cannot be permitted to repudiate his own declaration. (Sec. 68 [a], Rule 123, and Art. 1431, New Civil Code.)

Against the judgment, the defendant has prosecuted at this appeal claiming that the time of the accident the relation of employer and employee between the driver and defendant-appellant was not established, it having been proved at the trial that the real owner of the truck the Port Brokerage, of which defendant-appellant was merely a broker.  We find no merit or justice in the above contention. In previous decisions, We already have held that the registered owner of a certificate of public convenience is liable to the public for the injuries or damages suffered by passengers or third per- sons caused by the operation of said vehicle, even though the same had been transferred to a third person. (Montoya vs. Ignacio, G. R. No. L-5S68, Dec. 29, 1953; Eoque vs. Malibay Transit, Inc., 1 G. R. No. L-8561, Nov. 18, 1955; Vda. de Medina vs. Cresencia, G. R. No. L-8194, 52 off. Gaz.. [10] 4606.) The principle upon which this doctrine is based is that in dealing with vehicles registered under the Public Servive Law, the public has the right to assume or presume that the registered owner is the actual owner thereof, for it would be difficult for the public to enforce the actions that they may have for injuries caused to them by the vehicles being negligently operated if the public should be required to prove who the actual owner is.  How would the public or third persons know against whom to enforce their rights in case of subsequent transfers of the vehicles? We do not imply by this doctrine, however, that the registered owner may not recover whatever amount he had paid by virtue of his liability to third persons from the person to whom he had actually sold, assigned or conveyed the vehicle.

Under the same principle the registered owner of any vehicle, even if not used for a public service, should primarily be responsible to the public or to third persons for injuries caused the latter while the vehicle is being driven on the highways or streets. The members of the court are in agreement that the defendant- appellant should be held liable to plaintiff-appellee for the injuries occasioned to the latter because of the negligence of the driver, even if the defendant-appellant was no longer the owner of the vehicle at the time of the damage because he had previously sold it to another, that is the legal basis for his (defendant-appellant's) liability?

There is a presumption that the owner of the guilty vehicle is the defendant-appellant as he is the registered owner in the Motor Vehicles Office. Should he not be allowed to prove the truth, that he had sold it to another and thus shift the responsibility for the injury to the real and actual owner? The defendant should the affirmative of this proposition; the trial court held the negative.

The Revised Motor Vehicles Law (Act No. 3992, as amended) provides that no vehicle may be used or operated upon any public highway unless the same is properly registered. It has been stated that the system of licensing and the requirement that each machine must carry a registration number, conspicuously displayed, is one of the precautions taken to reduce the danger of injury to pedestrians and other travellers from the careless management of automobiles, and to furnish a means,of ascertaining the identity of persons violating the laws and ordinances, regulating the speed and operation of machines upon the highways (2 R. C. L. 1176).  Not only are vehicles to be registered and that no motor vehicles are to be used or operated without being properly registered for the current year, but that dealers in motor vehicles shall furnish the Motor Vehicles Office a report showing the name and address of each purchaser of motor vehicle during the previous month and the manufacturers serial number and motor number.  (Sec, 5 [c],  Act No. 3992, as amended.)

Registration is required not to make said registration the operative act by which ownership in vehicles is transferred, as in land registration cases, because the administrative proceeding of registration does not bear any essential relation to the contract of sale between the parties (Chinchilla vs. Rafel and Verdaguer, 39 Phil. 888), but to permit the use and operation of the vehicle upon any public highway (Sec. 5 [a],  Act No. 3992, as amended). 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 therefor can be fixed on a definite individual, the registered owner. Instances are numerous where vehicles running on public highways caused 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.
"One of the principal purposes of motor vehicle 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 would 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." (King vs. Brenham Automobile Co., 145 S. W 278, 279)
With the above policy in mind, the question that defendant-appellant poses is: Should not the registered owner be allowed at the trial to prove who the actual and real owner is, and in accordance with such proof escape or evade responsibility and lay the same on the person actually owning the vehicle? We hold with the trial court that the law does not allow him to do so; the law, with its aim and policy in mind, does not relieve him directly of the responsibility that the law fixes and places upon him as an incident or consequence of registration. Were a registered owner allowed to evade responsibility by proving who the supposed transferee or owner is, it would be easy for him, by collusion with others or otherwise, to escape said responsibility and transfer the same to an indefinite person, or to one who possesses no property with which to respond financially for the damage or injury done. A victim of recklessness on the public highways is usually without means to discover or identify the person actually causing the injury or damage. He has no means other than by a recourse to the registration in the Motor Vehicles Office to determine who is the owner. The protection that the law aims to extend to him would become illusory were the registered owner given the opportunity to escape liability by disproving his ownership. If the policy of the law is to be enforced and carried out, the registered owner should not be allowed to prove the contrary to the prejudice of the person injured, that is, to prove that a third person or another has become the owner, so that he may thereby be relieved of the responsibility to the injured person.

The above policy and application of the law may appear quite harsh and would seem to conflict with truth and justice. We do not think it is so. A registered owner who has already sold or transferred a vehicle has the recourse to a third-party complaint, in the same action brought against him to recover for the damage or injury done, against the vendee or transferee of the vehicle. The inconvenience of the suit is no justification for relieving him of liability; said inconvenience is the price he pays for failure to comply with the registration that the law demands and requires.

In synthesis, we hold that the registered owner, the defendant-appellant herein, is primarily responsible for the damage caused to the vehicle of the plaintiff-appellee, but he (defendant-appellant) has a right to be indemnified by the real or actual owner of the amount that he may be required to pay as damage for the injury caused to the plaintiff-appellant.

The judgment appealed from is hereby affirmed, with costs against defendant-appellant.

Paras, C. J., Bengzon,  Bautista Angelo, Labrador, Concepcion, Reyes, J. B. L., Endencia, and Felix, JJ.

Montemayos, J.,
concurs int the result

1 97 Phil., 1004.