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Generally, only those people who actually caused damage to another are to be held liable. There are instances however, when even a person who did not commit any direct act that caused the damage can be held to answer for the acts of another. It sounds unfair. But there is a concept or principle in civil law called “vicarious liability”. The word “vicarious” traces its origin in the latin word “vicis” which means “one that takes the place of”. It is also the origin of the word “vice” as in “vice-president”.
Can there be vicarious liability of a mayor for the act of a driver employed by the municipality? Mayor Miguel was the mayor of Koronadal while Lozano was an employee of the municipality as a driver. Lozano borrowed a pick-up from Simbulan (although Apostol is the registered owner) to bring Miguel to the air port to catch his flight to Manila. On their way to the airport, Jayme (a minor) was hit and killed by the vehicle Lozano was driving. Investigation revealed that Lozano was most probably driving fast during the incident owing to the fact that Jayme was hurled several meters away from the place of impact. Jayme’s parents filed a case against Lozano and Miguel among others to hold them liable for actual, moral, and exemplary damages, attorney’s fees, and litigation expenses. After trial, the Regional Trial Court found Lozano, Miguel, and Apostol jointly and severally liable for the damages. Mayor Miguel appealed the decision of the RTC.
No Vicarious Liability
The Supreme Court did not agree with the trial court. The concept of vicarious liability does not apply in this case. The SC explained: “Article 2180 of the Civil Code provides that a person is not only liable for one’s own quasi-delictual acts, but also for those persons for whom one is responsible for. This liability is popularly known as vicarious or imputed liability. To sustain claims against employers for the acts of their employees, the following requisites must be established: (1) That the employee was chosen by the employer personally or through another; (2) That the service to be rendered in accordance with orders which the employer has the authority to give at all times; and (3) That the illicit act of the employee was on the occasion or by reason of the functions entrusted to him.” (G.R. No. 163609, November 27, 2008) The parents of Jayme believed that Miguel had direct control and supervision over Lozano since the latter is an employee of the Municipality where Miguel was the chief executive. The High Tribunal declared that there was no employer-employee relationship between Miguel and Lozano and that the Municipality of Koronadal was the employer. Even if Miguel was the superior of Lozano and directed the latter where to bring him dow not in itself attach liability because “mere giving of directions to the driver does not establish that the passenger has control over the vehicle. Neither does it render one the employer of the driver.” The assignment of Lozano as the driver of Miguel and the fact that the latter was the mayor who can instruct Lozano what to do, do not indicate that one is the employee of the other. In this case, the SC reiterated that the employer-employee relationship is very essential for the concept of vicarious liability to apply. “In the absence of an employer-employee relationship establishing vicarious liability, the driver’s negligence should not be attributed to a fellow employee who only happens to be an occupant of the vehicle. Whatever right of control the occupant may have over the driver is not sufficient by itself to justify an application of the doctrine of vicarious liability.”