Case Digest: San Fernando v. Firme

San Fernando v. Firme

G.R. N. L-579   [April 8, 1991]

FACTS:

On December 16, 1965, a collision occurred involving a passenger jeepney driven by Balagot and owned by the Estate of Macario Nieveras, a gravel and sand truck driven by Jose Manandeg and owned by Tanquilino Velasquez and a dump truck of the Municipality of San Fernando, La Union and driven by Alfredo Bislig.  Several passengers of the jeepney including Laureano Baniña Sr. died as a result of the injuries they sustained and  4 others suffered varying degrees of physical injuries.

 The heirs of Baniña Sr. filed a  complaint for damages against the Estate of Nieveras and Balagot. However, the aforesaid defendants filed a Third Party Complaint against the petitioner and the driver of a dump truck of petitioner. The case was transferred to branch presided by Judge Firme. The heirs of Baniña Sr. amended the complaint wherein the petitioner and its regular employee Bislig were impleaded as defendants. Judge Firme in its decision rendered the Municipality of San Fernando and Bislig jointly and severally liable to pa funeral expenses, lot expected earnings, moral damages and attorney’s fees.

ISSUE:

Whether or not petitioner was liable.

RULING:

 

The petitioner cannot be held liable by virtue of the non-suability of the State.

The general rule Is that the State may not be sued except when it gives consent to be sued (Article XVI, Sec. 3 of the Constitution.) Express consent may be embodied in a general law or a special law. The standing consent of the State to be sued in case of money claims involving liability arising from contracts is found in Act No. 3083. Consent is implied when the government enters into business contracts and also when the State files a complaint. Municipal corporations are agencies of the State when they are engaged in governmental functions and therefore should enjoy the sovereign immunity from suit. Nevertheless, they are subject to suit even in the performance of such functions because their charter provided that they can sue and be sued. However, the circumstance that a state is suable does not necessarily mean that it is liable; on the other hand, it can never be held liable if it does not first consent to be sued. Liability is not conceded by the mere fact that the state has allowed itself to be sued. When the state does waive its sovereign immunity, it is only giving the plaintiff the chance to prove, if it can, that the defendant is liable.”
Municipal corporations are suable because their charters grant them the competence to sue and be sued. Nevertheless, they are generally not liable for torts committed by them in the discharge of governmental functions and can be held answerable only if it can be shown that they were acting in a proprietary capacity Here, the driver of the dump truck of the municipality insists that “he was on his way to the Naguilian river to get a load of sand and gravel for the repair of San Fernando’s municipal streets.” In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, the regularity of the performance of official duty is presumed pursuant to Section 3(m) of Rule 131 of the Revised Rules of Court.

Hence, the SC held that the driver of the dump truck was performing duties or tasks pertaining to his office. Municipality cannot be held liable for the torts committed by its regular employee, who was then engaged in the discharge of governmental functions.