In some countries, the bicycle is their preferred mode of transportation. In our country, the bicycle is less seen as a means of transportation to school or work and the motor vehicle is still the king of the road. There have been efforts to introduce the manually driven mode of transport in major cities to ease the perennial traffic congestion and promote a healthy lifestyle but there has been very minimal success. Bike lanes were even designated on some major roads but they remain unused. There are many benefits of using bicycle as a mode of transportation but some voice out their concern over the safety of using the bicycle on our major roads. Being used on public roads, are bicycles covered by the traffic law or other laws related to motor vehicles? One case involving a car and a bicycle reached the Supreme Court on the question of whether the damages may be tempered because the bicycle rider was guilty of contributory negligence.
Aonuevo vs. Villagracia
This case involves very simple facts. Jonas Aonuevo was driving his Lancer along Boni Avenue when it struck Jerome Villagracia who was at that time on his bicycle. Villagracia suffered injuries requiring hospitalization and medical operations. Jerome filed a criminal case but was later dismissed and only the civil case for damages proceeded against Aonuevo and his employer-Procter and Gamble. The Regional Trial Court rendered its judgment finding both Aonuevo and Procter liable for damages. Both defendants appealed with the Court of Appeals and after the CA affirmed the decision of the RTC, they went to the Supreme Court. Only Aonuevo’s appeal was considered by the High Tribunal on the question of “whether Article 2185 of the New Civil Code, which presumes the driver of a motor vehicle negligent if he was violating a traffic regulation at the time of the mishap, should apply by analogy to non-motorized vehicles” (G.R. No. 130003. October 20, 2004). Aonuevo anchored his argument on the fact that Villagracia did not install safety gadgets on his bicycle at the time of the collision.
Aonuevo is liable.
Villagracia admitted that he did not install safety gadgets on his bicycle and it is on this fact that Aonuevo claims that Villagracia is guilty of contributory negligence. Aonuevo argues that Civil Code Article 2185 applies in this case by analogy which says: “Unless there is proof to the contrary, it is presumed that a person driving a motor vehicle has been negligent if at the time of the mishap he was violating any traffic regulation”. The Court is being asked to interpret Art. 2185 to include non-motor vehicles such as the bicycle under its coverage. The SC cannot make this deviation because the article is very clear that what is covered only are “motor vehicles” which necessarily excludes unmotorized means of transport. The Court however, examined the issue of whether Villagracia is guilty of contributory negligence. The SC said: “The failure of the bicycle owner to comply with accepted safety practices, whether or not imposed by ordinance or statute, is not sufficient to negate or mitigate recovery unless a causal connection is established between such failure and the injury sustained. …violation of a traffic statute must be shown as the proximate cause of the injury, or that it substantially contributed thereto. Aonuevo had the burden of clearly proving that the alleged negligence of Villagracia was the proximate or contributory cause of the latters injury.” If ever Villagracia did not comply with an ordinance requiring the installation of safety devices or registration of his bicycle, it was not the proximate cause of the accident. The careless driving of Aonuevo was the reason why the accident happened. Even if Villagracia were compliant with the ordinance, the collision would still have happened. Villagracia’s “negligence” did not contribute to the happening of the accident so it did not have any effect on the liability of Aonuevo.