Marcelo Macalinao and Eddie Medecielo Ong were employed as utility man and driver, respectively, at the Genetron International Marketing, a single proprietorship owned and operated by Genovevo Sebastian.
On 25 April 1992, Sebastian instructed Macalinao, Ong and two truck helpers to deliver a heavy piece of machinery reactor/motor for mixing chemicals, to Sebastian’s manufacturing plant in Angat, Bulacan. While in the process of complying with the order, the vehicle driven by Ong, Genetron’s Isuzu Elf truck hit and bumped the front portion of a private jeepney along Caypombo, Sta. Maria, Bulacan.
Both vehicles incurred severe damages while the passengers sustained physical injuries as a consequence of the collision. Macalinao incurred the most serious injuries among the passengers of the truck. Macalinao’s body was paralyzed and immobilized from the neck down as a result of the accident and per doctor’s advice, his foot was amputated. He also suffered from bed sores and infection which ultimately led to his death.
Macalinao’s heirs substituted him in an action for damages against both Ong and Sebastian before the RTC and in the criminal case for reckless imprudence.
The RTC held that based on the evidence, Ong drove the Isuzu truck in a reckless and imprudent manner thereby causing the same to hit the private jeepney.
Consequently, the trial court pronounced the two of them jointly liable to pay actual, moral, and exemplary damages as well as civil indemnity for Macalinao’s death. The trial court subsequently increased the monetary award upon petitioners’ motion for reconsideration thereof.
On appeal, the appellate court reversed the findings of the trial court.
Aggrieved at the ruling, petitioners elevated the case to this Court.
Whether the evidence conclusively established fault or negligence on the part of Ong and justify the award of damages in their favor.
The issue of negligence is factual and, in quasi-delicts, crucial in the award of damages.
In the case at bar, the crux of the controversy is the sufficiency of the evidence presented to support a finding of negligence against Ong. Given the contradictory conclusions of the trial court and the appellate court on this issue, this Court is impelled to ascertain for itself which court made the correct determination.
Contrary to the above conclusion of the appellate court, the evidence on record coupled with the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur sufficiently establishes Ong’s negligence.
We focus first on the evidence presented before the trial court.
The photographs of the accident which the appellate court cavalierly brushed aside as insignificant deserve substantial cogitation. In Jose v. CA, we upheld the trial court’s reliance on photographs of the accident as opposed to a party’s obviously biased testimony.
Physical evidence is a mute but an eloquent manifestation of truth which ranks high in our hierarchy of trustworthy evidence.
In this case, while there is a dearth of testimonial evidence to enlighten us about what actually happened, photographs depicting the relative positions of the vehicles immediately after the accident took place do exist. It is well established that photographs, when duly verified and shown by extrinsic evidence to be faithful representations of the subject as of the time in question, are, in the discretion of the trial court, admissible in evidence as aids in arriving at an understanding of the evidence, the situation or condition of objects or premises or the circumstances of an accident.
Another piece of evidence which supports a finding of negligence against Ong is the police report of the incident of the Sta. Maria Police Station. The report states that the Isuzu truck was the one which hit the left front portion of the private jeepney.
While not constituting direct proof of Ong’s negligence, the foregoing pieces of evidence justify the application of res ipsa loquitur, a Latin phrase which literally means ‘the thing or the transaction speaks for itself.
Res ipsa loquitur recognizes that parties may establish prima facie negligence without direct proof, thus, it allows the principle to substitute for specific proof of negligence. It permits the plaintiff to present along with proof of the accident, enough of the attending circumstances to invoke the doctrine, create an inference or presumption of negligence and thereby place on the defendant the burden of proving that there was no negligence on his part.
No two motor vehicles traversing opposite lanes will collide as a matter of course unless someone is negligent. Ong was driving the Isuzu truck which, from the evidence adduced, appears to have precipitated the collision with the private jeepney. Driving the Isuzu truck gave Ong exclusive management and control over it. No contributory negligence could be attributed to Macalinao relative to the happening of the accident since he was merely a passenger in the Isuzu truck.
As a consequence, the prima facie finding of negligence against Ong, remaining unexplained and/or uncontradicted, is deemed established. This in turn warrants a finding that Ong is liable for damages to petitioners.