G.R. No. 120027, April 21, 1999

365 Phil. 546


G.RNo120027, April 21, 1999 ]




The case is a petition for review on certiorari of the decision of the Court of Appeals,[1] reversing that of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 45, Manila.[2]

The rule is well-settled that factual findings of the Court of Appeals are generally considered final and may not be reviewed on appeal. However, this principle admits of certain exceptions, among which is when the findings of the appellate court are contrary to those of the trial court, a re-examination of the facts and evidence may be undertaken.[3] This case falls under the cited exception.

The antecedent facts are as follows:

Petitioner Edna A. Raynera was the widow of Reynaldo Raynera and the mother and legal guardian of the minors Rianna and Reianne, both surnamed Raynera. Respondents Freddie Hiceta and Jimmy Orpilla were the owner and driver, respectively, of an Isuzu truck-trailer, with plate No. NXC 848, involved in the accident.

On March 23, 1989, at about 2:00 in the morning, Reynaldo Raynera was on his way home. He was riding a motorcycle traveling on the southbound lane of East Service Road, Cupang, Muntinlupa. The Isuzu truck was travelling ahead of him at 20 to 30 kilometers per hour.[4] The truck was loaded with two (2) metal sheets extended on both sides, two (2) feet on the left and three (3) feet on the right. There were two (2) pairs of red lights, about 35 watts each, on both sides of the metal plates.[5] The asphalt road was not well lighted.

At some point on the road, Reynaldo Raynera crashed his motorcycle into the left rear portion of the truck trailer, which was without tail lights. Due to the collision, Reynaldo sustained head injuries and truck helper Geraldino D. Lucelo[6] rushed him to the Parañaque Medical Center. Upon arrival at the hospital, the attending physician, Dr. Marivic Aguirre,[7] pronounced Reynaldo Raynera dead on arrival.

At the time of his death, Reynaldo was manager of the Engineering Department, Kawasaki Motors (Phils.) Corporation. He was 32 years old, had a life expectancy of sixty five (65) years, and an annual net earnings of not less than seventy three thousand five hundred (P73,500.00) pesos,[8] with a potential increase in annual net earnings of not less than ten percent (10%) of his salary.[9]

On May 12, 1989, the heirs of the deceased demanded[10] from respondents payment of damages arising from the death of Reynaldo Raynera as a result of the vehicular accident. The respondents refused to pay the claims.

On September 13, 1989, petitioners filed with the Regional Trial Court, Manila[11] a complaint[12] for damages against respondents owner and driver of the Isuzu truck.

In their complaint against respondents, petitioners sought recovery of damages for the death of Reynaldo Raynera caused by the negligent operation of the truck-trailer at nighttime on the highway, without tail lights.

In their answer filed on April 4, 1990, respondents alleged that the truck was travelling slowly on the service road, not parked improperly at a dark portion of the road, with no tail lights, license plate and early warning device.

At the trial, petitioners presented Virgilio Santos. He testified that at about 1:00 and 2:00 in the morning of March 23, 1989, he and his wife went to Alabang market, on board a tricycle. They passed by the service road going south, and saw a parked truck trailer, with its hood open and without tail lights. They would have bumped the truck but the tricycle driver was quick in avoiding a collision. The place was dark, and the truck had no early warning device to alert passing motorists.[13]

On the other hand, respondents presented truck helper Geraldino Lucelo.[14] He testified that at the time the incident happened, the truck was slowly traveling at approximately 20 to 30 kilometers per hour. Another employee of respondents, auto-mechanic Rogoberto Reyes,[15] testified that at about 3:00 in the afternoon of March 22, 1989, with the help of Lucelo, he installed two (2) pairs of red lights, about 30 to 40 watts each, on both sides of the steel plates.[16] On his part, traffic investigation officer Cpl. Virgilio del Monte[17] admitted that these lights were visible at a distance of 100 meters.

On December 19, 1991, the trial court rendered decision in favor of petitioners. It found respondents Freddie Hiceta and Jimmy Orpilla negligent in view of these circumstances: (1) the truck trailer had no license plate and tail lights; (2) there were only two pairs of red lights, 50 watts[18] each, on both sides of the steel plates; and (3) the truck trailer was improperly parked in a dark area.

The trial court held that respondents' negligence was the immediate and proximate cause of Reynaldo Raynera's death, for which they are jointly and severally liable to pay damages to petitioners. The trial court also held that the victim was himself negligent, although this was insufficient to overcome respondents' negligence. The trial court applied the doctrine of contributory negligence[19] and reduced the responsibility of respondents by 20% on account of the victim's own negligence.

The dispositive portion of the lower court's decision reads as follows:
"All things considered, the Court is of the opinion that it is fair and reasonable to fix the living and other expenses of the deceased the sum of P54,000.00 a year or about P4,500.00 a month (P150.00 p/d) and that, consequently, the loss or damage sustained by the plaintiffs may be estimated at P1,674,000.00 for the 31 years of Reynaldo Raynera's life expectancy.

"Taking into account the cooperative negligence of the deceased Reynaldo Raynera, the Court believes that the demand of substantial justice are satisfied by allocating the damages on 80-20 ratio. Thus, P1,337,200.00 shall be paid by the defendants with interest thereon, at the legal rate, from date of decision, as damages for the loss of earnings. To this sum, the following shall be added:

(a) P33,412.00, actually spent for funeral services, interment and memorial lot;

(b) P20,000.00 as attorney's fees;

(c) cost of suit.

On January 10, 1992, respondents Hiceta and Orpilla appealed to the Court of Appeals.[21]

After due proceedings, on April 28, 1995, the Court of Appeals rendered decision setting aside the appealed decision. The appellate court held that Reynaldo Raynera's bumping into the left rear portion of the truck was the proximate cause of his death,[22] and consequently, absolved respondents from liability.

Hence, this petition for review on certiorari.

In this petition, the heirs of Reynaldo Raynera contend that the appellate court erred in: (1) overturning the trial court's finding that respondents' negligent operation of the Isuzu truck was the proximate cause of the victim's death; (2) applying the doctrine of last clear chance; (3) setting aside the trial court's award of actual and compensatory damages.

The issues presented are (a) whether respondents were negligent, and if so, (b) whether such negligence was the proximate cause of the death of Reynaldo Raynera.

Petitioners maintain that the proximate cause of Reynaldo Raynera's death was respondents' negligence in operating the truck trailer on the highway without tail lights and license plate.

The Court finds no reason to disturb the factual findings of the Court of Appeals.

"Negligence is the omission to do something which a reasonable man, guided by those considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs, would do, or the doing of something, which a prudent and reasonable man would not do."[23]

Proximate cause 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."[24]

During the trial, it was established that the truck had no tail lights. The photographs taken of the scene of the accident showed that there were no tail lights or license plates installed on the Isuzu truck. Instead, what were installed were two (2) pairs of lights on top of the steel plates, and one (1) pair of lights in front of the truck. With regard to the rear of the truck, the photos taken and the sketch in the spot report proved that there were no tail lights.

Despite the absence of tail lights and license plate, respondents' truck was visible in the highway. It was traveling at a moderate speed, approximately 20 to 30 kilometers per hour. It used the service road, instead of the highway, because the cargo they were hauling posed a danger to passing motorists. In compliance with the Land Transportation Traffic Code (Republic Act No. 4136)"[25] respondents installed 2 pairs of lights on top of the steel plates, as the vehicle's cargo load extended beyond the bed or body thereof.

We find that the direct cause of the accident was the negligence of the victim. Traveling behind the truck, he had the responsibility of avoiding bumping the vehicle in front of him. He was in control of the situation. His motorcycle was equipped with headlights to enable him to see what was in front of him. He was traversing the service road where the prescribed speed limit was less than that in the highway.

Traffic investigator Cpl. Virgilio del Monte testified that two pairs of 50-watts bulbs were on top of the steel plates,[26] which were visible from a distance of 100 meters.[27] Virgilio Santos admitted that from the tricycle where he was on board, he saw the truck and its cargo of iron plates from a distance of ten (10) meters.[28] In light of these circumstances, an accident could have been easily avoided, unless the victim had been driving too fast and did not exercise due care and prudence demanded of him under the circumstances.

Virgilio Santos' testimony strengthened respondents' defense that it was the victim who was reckless and negligent in driving his motorcycle at high speed. The tricycle where Santos was on board was not much different from the victim's motorcycle that figured in the accident. Although Santos claimed the tricycle almost bumped into the improperly parked truck, the tricycle driver was able to avoid hitting the truck.

It has been said that drivers of vehicles "who bump the rear of another vehicle" are presumed to be "the cause of the accident, unless contradicted by other evidence".[29] The rationale behind the presumption is that the driver of the rear vehicle has full control of the situation as he is in a position to observe the vehicle in front of him.

We agree with the Court of Appeals that the responsibility to avoid the collision with the front vehicle lies with the driver of the rear vehicle.

Consequently, no other person was to blame but the victim himself since he was the one who bumped his motorcycle into the rear of the Isuzu truck. He had the last clear chance of avoiding the accident.

WHEREFORE, we DENY the petition for review on certiorari and AFFIRM the decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-GR. CV No. 35895, dismissing the amended complaint in Civil Case No. 89-50355, Regional Trial Court, Branch 45, Manila.

No costs.


Davide, Jr., C.J. (Chairman), Melo, and Kapunan, JJ., concur.
Ynares-Santiago, J., no part.

[1] Promulgated on April 26, 1995, in CA-GR. CV No. 35895, Eighth Division, Justice Bernardo Ll. Salas, ponente, concurred in by Justices Jaime M. Lantin, Chairman, and Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez.

[2] Dated December 19, 1991, Judge Benito C. Se, Jr., presiding.

[3] Cayabyab vs. Intermediate Appellate Court, 123 SCRA 1, 4; see also Misa vs. Court of Appeals, 212 SCRA 217; Golangco vs. Court of Appeals, 283 SCRA 493, 503; Fule vs. Court of Appeals, 286 SCRA 698, 710; Halili vs. Court of Appeals, 287 SCRA 465, 470; Remalante vs. Tibe 158 SCRA 138; Ayala Corporation vs. Ray Burton Development Corporation, G.RNo. 126699, August 7, 1998.

[4] tsn, February 8, 1991, p. 11.

[5] tsn, February 8, 1991, pp. 5-9.

[6] Police Spot Report, Exh. G, Original Records, p. 81.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Per certification issued by Digna S. Remolana, personnel manager, Kawasaki Motors (Phils.) Corporation on May 18, 1989; Exh. D, Original Records, p. 78.

[9] Complaint, Original Records, p. 2.

[10] Exh. K, Original Records, p. 85.

[11] Docketed as Civil Case No. 89-50355.

[12] Complaint, Records, pp. 1-5.

[13] Memorandum for the Petitioners, Rollo, p. 186.

[14] tsn, February 8, 1991.

[15] In the decision of the trial court, he was referred to as Rogo Roberto Reyes.

[16] tsn, January 29, 1991.

[17] tsn, October 1, 1990.

[18] The trial court's decision stated that the bulbs installed on top of the steel plates were 50 watts each, but from the testimonies of the witnesses before the trial court, they said that the bulbs were 30 to 40 watts each.

[19] Phoenix Construction, Inc. vs. Intermediate Appellate Court, 148 SCRA 353.

[20] Regional Trial Court Decision, CV Case No. 89-50355, Rollo, p. 66.

[21] Docketed as CA-GR. CV No. 35895.

[22] Court of Appeals Decision, CA-GR. CV No. 35895, Rollo, p. 51.

[23] Philippine Bank of Commerce vs. Court of Appeals, 269 SCRA 695, 703.

[24] Ibid, at pp. 706-707.

[25] Article IV, Sec. 34 (I) Use of Red Flag- Whenever the load of any vehicle extends more than one meter beyond the bed or body thereof, there shall be displayed at every projecting end of such load a red flag not less than thirty centimeters both in length and width, except that during the hours fixed under sub-section (c) [not later than one-half hour after sunset and until at least one-half hour before sunrise and whenever weather conditions so require], there shall be displayed, in lieu of the required red flags, red lights, visible at least fifty meters away.

[26] tsn, October 1, 1990, p. 13.

[27] Ibid, p. 17.

[28] tsn, October 15, 1990, pp. 4-6.

[29] Cf. Philippine Rabbit Bus Lines, Inc. vs. Intermediate Appellate Court, 189 SCRA 158, 168.