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Valenzuela vs. Court of Appeals Case Digest [G.R. No. 115024, February 7, 1996]

Valenzuela vs. Court of Appeals, Valenzuela vs. CA, G.R. No. 115024 February 7, 1996, case digest

The Valenzuela vs. Court of Appeals case is another occasion where the Supreme Court of the Philippines reiterated the Emergency Rule.

This rule is stated as follows:

Under the “emergency rule”, an individual who suddenly finds himself in a situation of danger and is required to act without much time to consider the best means that may be adopted to avoid the impending danger, is not guilty of negligence if he fails to undertake what subsequently and upon reflection may appear to be a better solution, unless the emergency was brought by his own negligence.

Facts of the Valenzuela vs. Court of Appeals case

As she traversed Aurora Boulevard, Ma. Lourdez Valenzuela, upon reaching the portion close to A. Lake St., noticed that she had a flat tire. As she narrated, she stopped at a lighted place were there were people in order to verify whether or not she had a flat tire and to solicit help if needed.

As people told Valenzuela that she had a flat rear tire and that she won’t be able to reach home in that state, she decided to park her car towards the sidewalk, which is 1 and 1/2 away and behind a Toyota Corona car. Notably, the investigator on scene of the crime later confirmed that she parked her car very close to the sidewalk and which is at a convenient distance away from motorists passing the right lane of Aurora Boulevard.

Thereafter, Valenzuela put on her car’s emergency lights, alighted therefrom, and went to the rear to open the trunk of her car. Then, as she stood at the left side of her car’s rear while pointing to a man, who would help her, the tools he’d use, a car bumped her. Richard Li (private defendant) drove this car, which belonged to his employer, Alexander Commercial, Inc.

Rogelio Rodriguez, the owner-operator of Lambingan sa Kambingan that was located near the scene, testified that Valenzuela was thrown against the windshield of the defendant’s car and she landed under her car due to the impact. He recounted that Li’s car came approaching very fast from 10 meters away from the scene and was zigzagging when it did.

Valenzuela, as a consequence, suffered a severed leg (which extended up to the middle of her thighs), with only some skin and sucle connecting it to the rest of her body. This led to the amputation of her leg and her confinement for 20 days. Consequently, she had to be fitted with an artificial leg.

Overall, Valenzuela incurred expenses totaling to Php 147,000.00, which Li paid out of the proceeds of his car insurance. Nonetheless, Valenzuela filed a civil case against him, praying for moral damages of Php 1 million, exemplary damages in the amount of Php 100,000), and other medical and related expenses, including loss of expected earnings in the amount of Php 180,000.

For his part, Li maintains that he wasn’t negligent and counterclaimed for damages. He testified that he was driving along the inner portion of Aurora Boulevard, only at a speed of 55 kilometers per hour, when another car suddenly came from the opposite direction. In order to prevent himself from colliding with said car, he swerved to the right and bumped Valenzuela’s car. Li alleges that he did not see Valenzuela’s car as it is in a midnight blue color, and that it was parked in a poorly lighted area with no parking lights or early warning device. He further alleged that the left portion of Valenzuela’s car was protruding on the outer portion of the right lane, in a standstill diagonal position. He maintained that Valenzuela was negligent or reckless, and that she wasn’t licensed driver. Based on evidence on record, however, Li was driving at a fast speed and under he influence of liquor.

After trial, the Quezon City Regional Trial Court found Li guilty of gross negligence and liable for damages under Article 2176 of the Civil Code. Likewise, it held Alexander Commercial, Inc. solidarily liable with Li for damages, pursuant to Article 2180 of said Code.

When the trial court denied Li’s Motion for New Trial, he forthwith appealed against its decision with the Court of Appeals (CA), maintaining that Valenzuela’s car was improperly parked. Consequently, the CA ruled in Valenzuela’s favor and held that there was ample basis from the evidence on record for the trial court’s finding that Valenzuela’s car was properly parked. Nonetheless, the appellate court absolved Alexander Commercial, Inc. from liability.

As Li and Valenzuela were both aggrieved with the appellate court’s decision, they appealed against its ruling before the Supreme Court. Li, for his part, contended that he shouldn’t be made liable for damages as Valenzuela’s own negligence is the proximate cause of her injury. Alternatively, just in case the High Court would find him negligent, he maintained that Valenzuela’s contributory negligence should mitigate his liability. On the other hand, Valenzuela assailed the CA’s decision of absolving Alexander Commercial, Inc. from liability.

Issues

  1. Whether or not Richard Li is liable for damages
  2. Whether or not Ma. Lourdes Valenzuela was guilty of contributory negligence
  3. Whether or not Alexander Commercial, Inc. should be held solidarily liable with Richard Li




The Court’s Ruling

Richard Li is liable for damages

Is Richard Li liable for damages?

The Court ruled that his gross negligence in driving at a very fast speed and under the influence of liquor is the only negligence ascribable to injuries or damages which Valenzuela suffered.

In affirming the Court of Appeal’s ruling, finding Li liable for damages, the High Court appreciated the fact of Li’s failure to react with the changing road conditions at the time of the incident. According to the Court, if Li was indeed driving at a rate of 55 kph, he would have noticed the upcoming car on his opposite side, slow down, and step into the brakes of his car. Consequently, his failure to react, in a manner that could have avoided the accident, could therefore had been only due to either or both of the two factors: 1) that he was driving at a “very fast” speed as testified by Rodriguez; and 2) that he was under the influence of alcohol.

Valenzuela was not negligent or reckless; no contributory negligence on her part

On the other hand, contrary to Li’s allegations, Valenzuela was not negligent or reckless.

Valenzuela, by parking her car very close to the sidewalk and away from the other motorists, exercised the diligence which the emergent situation reasonably dictated, pursuant to the emergency rule.

Under the “emergency rule”, an individual who suddenly finds himself in a situation of danger and is required to act without much time to consider the best means that may be adopted to avoid the impending danger, is not guilty of negligence if he fails to undertake what subsequently and upon reflection may appear to be a better solution, unless the emergency was brought by his own negligence.

While the emergency rule applies to those cases in which reflective thought, or the opportunity to adequately weigh a threatening situation is absent, the conduct which is required of an individual in such cases is dictated not exclusively by the suddenness of the event, which absolutely negates thorough care, but by the over-all nature of the circumstances.

Accordingly, the Court ruled that Valenzuela cannot be faulted for parking on the sidewalk when she found that she had flat tire. She is not expected to continue running along Aurora Boulevard in order to look for a parking zone, or turn to a dark street or alley where she would be unlikely to find anyone to help her. With her flat tire, it would be hazardous for her not to stop and assess the emergency as her hobbling car would be both a threat for her safety and that of other motorists.

Alexander Commercial, Inc.’s is solidarily liable with Li

Lastly, is Alexander Commercial, Inc., Li’s employer, is jointly and severally liable with Li. In so ruling, the High Court held that Alexander Commercial, Inc. failed to ascertain with the diligence of a good father of a family Li’s ability to use the company-issued car responsibly and capably.

The Court appreciated the fact that Alexander Commercial, Inc. made No allegations as to whether or not it took the necessary steps in ascertaining Li’s driving proficiency and history, before it gave the latter full and unlimited use of its company car. Hence, not having been able to overcome the burden of demonstrating that it should be absolved of liability for entrusting its company car to Li, Alexander Commercial, Inc. should be jointly and severally liable with the former for the injuries that Valenzuela sustained by reason of the accident, in accordance with the principle of bonus pater familias.


References:

  1. Valenzuela vs. Court of Appeals (G.R. No. 115024, 07 February 1996)
  2. Rabuya, E.T. (2017), Civil Law Reviewer Volume II. Rex Book Store.

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