By Atty. Eduardo T. Reyes III
With the spate of road rage incidents that were recently reported on social media and other news outlets, it is obvious that negligence or recklessness had started the incident and then neither or both parties is/are patient and humble enough to let it go- thus resulting in a “road rage.”
When the two protagonists whose motor vehicles had collided on the road point fingers at each other as to who is at fault, how should the dispute be resolved? Will the one with no driver’s license or whose motor vehicle was not registered be deemed automatically at fault?
Traffic investigators and sometimes even trial courts would attribute fault to the one who has no driver’s license and/or whose motor vehicle is not registered.
Is this correct?
In the recent case of Michael John Robles v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 223810, which came down on August 2, 2023, the Supreme Court clarified once more that it is not proper to instantly assign fault on the driver who has no license and/or whose vehicle is unregistered.
Instead, it must be ascertained if indeed there is negligence or recklessness on the part of said driver and there is a “direct causal connection” between such negligence or recklessness and the collision that resulted to damages to the other party. Thus:
“Gonzaga v. People, and more recently, Ofracio v. People instruct that in order to establish a motorist’s liability for the negligent operation of a vehicle, it must be shown that there was a direct causal connection between such negligence and the injuries or damages complained of. Otherwise stated, mere negligence, presumed or otherwise, does not warrant a conviction under Article 365 of the RPC, as a direct causal connection must additionally be shown between the accused’s negligence and the accident. In the same light, the Court, in Valencia v. People, further held that mere negligence will not suffice because it is the motorist’s willful and wanton act done in utter disregard of the consequence of his or her action, which criminalizes an imprudent or negligent act.” (Michael John Robles v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 223810. August 2, 2023).
“Likewise, Anonuevo v. Court of Appeals clarifies that while the violation of a statute may establish some degree of negligence, pursuant to Article 2185 of the Civil Code, the complainant must nevertheless show that the violation of the statute was the proximate or legal cause of the injury, or that it substantially contributed thereto. After all, negligence consisting in whole or in part, of violation of law, like any other negligence, is without legal consequence unless it is a contributing cause of the injury.” (Michael John Robles v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 223810. August 2, 2023).
Indeed, while a presumption of negligence arises when a driver is found to be in violation of the law or certain regulations during the mishap, e.g., lack of driver’s license, non-registration of the motor vehicle, or entering a one-way street; nonetheless, it takes more than such presumption to allocate blame on the driver for purposes of holding him/her liable for damages in a civil case let alone convicting him/her of criminal reckless imprudence.
Truly, being cognizant of one’s legal rights while on the road will go a long way.
(The author is the senior partner of ET Reyes III & Associates– a law firm based in Iloilo City. He is a litigation attorney, a law professor, MCLE lecturer, bar reviewer and a book author. His website is etriiilaw.com).