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Property rules

On dealing with bumps in the road

After a long day at work, Genaro Teotico waited at a “loading and unloading” zone  for a jeepney to take him home. After 30 minutes of waiting and braving the strong rains and wind, he managed to hail a jeepney.

As he stepped down from the curb to board the jeepney, Teotico fell in an uncovered and unlighted manhole. He hit head on the rim of the manhole.

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Teotico’s vision was impaired as blood flowed from his head. He also sustained abrasions and lacerations on his face, and bruises on his arms and thighs, requiring anti-tetanus injections and further medical treatment by a private practitioner at the nearby hospital.

Teotico is one among many cases of road mishaps caused by defective condition of roads, streets, bridges, and other public infrastructures.

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News agencies had reported that road defects were among the causes for the 299 road vehicular incidents that have occurred in Metro Manila on a daily basis, on average, from 2001 to 2016. Another reported that 5.1 percent of the total number of road traffic accidents from January to June 2015 were caused by road conditions.

“The number of road accidents is rising not just in the Philippines,” said Philippine National Police-Highway Patrol Group Superintendent Oliver Tanseco in an earlier press briefing. “The [World Health Organization] said that regardless of whether you are in Asia or Europe, the number of road crash incidents are rising.”

Victims of these accidents are burdened with the high costs of their medical treatment and the drugs administered to them.

Upon the filing of a complaint with the proper court, however, local government units (LGU) may be directed to, among others, reimburse the victims for their hospital costs. In this regard, under the Civil Code, LGUs, consisting of provinces, cities, and municipalities, may be held liable for damages for the death of, or injuries sustained by any person, by reason of the defective condition of roads, streets, bridges, public buildings, and other public works that are under their control or supervision.

The LGUs’ liability stems from their duty to maintain infrastructure facilities within their territorial jurisdictions, such as roads, bridges, drainage and sewerage, traffic signals, and road signs, as provided for in the Local Government Code.

It also bears stressing that municipal mayors of concerned LGUs shall further ensure that the construction and repair of roads and highways funded by the national government be, as far as practicable, carried out in a spatially contiguous manner, and coordinated with the construction and repair of roads and bridges located at the LGUs’ respective territories.

In fact, the Supreme Court decided on Teotico’s fate in City of Manila v. Teotico. In affirming the City of Manila’s liability for damages suffered by Teotico, the Supreme Court held that the LGUs’ liability is not limited to roads and streets owned by them. Such liability extends to national roads that the LGUs may have control of or supervision over, as in Teotico’s case.

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Moreover, LGUs may be held liable for their employees’ negligence in the maintenance of roads and bridges. In this regard, in Quezon City Government v. Dacara, the Supreme Court held that such negligence is transfixed by the attending circumstances so that the greater the danger known or reasonably anticipated, the greater is the degree of care required to be observed.

Nevertheless, the award of actual damages to answer for the victims’ hospital and other costs should not be based on speculation, conjecture, or guess work. Without the actual proof of such costs, the award of actual damages becomes erroneous.

Meanwhile, for their physical suffering, mental anguish, and serious anxiety, victims of road mishaps may likewise be awarded moral damages, which do not need proof of pecuniary loss.

The Supreme Court held that though incapable of pecuniary estimation, moral damages are in the nature of an award to compensate the claimant for the actual injury suffered but which for some reason cannot be proven.

In this case, the court may then exercise its discretion in determining the amount of moral damages.

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