GR. 188363, 27 February 2013
On October 10, 2002, a check in the amount of P1,000,000.00 payable to MMGI was presented for deposit and accepted at petitioner’s Kawit Branch. The check, post-dated “Oct. 9, 2003”, was drawn against the account of Marciano Silva, Jr. with respondent BPI Bel-Air Branch. Upon receipt, petitioner sent the check for clearing to respondent through the Philippine Clearing House Corporation (PCHC).
The check was cleared by respondent and petitioner credited the account of MMGI with P1,000,000.00. On October 22, 2002, MMGI’s account was closed and all the funds therein were withdrawn. A month later, Silva discovered the debit of P1,000,000.00 from his account. In response to Silva’s complaint, respondent credited his account with the aforesaid sum.
Petitioner filed a complaint before the Arbitration Committee, asserting that respondent should solely bear the entire face value of the check due to its negligence in failing to return the check to petitioner within the 24-hour reglementary period as provided in Section 20.1 of the Clearing House Rules and Regulations 2000. In its Answer with Counterclaims, respondent charged petitioner with gross negligence for accepting the post-dated check in the first place. It contended that petitioner’s admitted negligence was the sole and proximate cause of the loss.
The Arbitration Committee further noted that respondent not only failed to return the check within the 24-hour reglementary period, it also failed to institute any formal complaint within the contemplation of Section 20.3 and it appears that respondent was already contented with the 50-50 split initially implemented by the PCHC. Finding both parties negligent in the performance of their duties, the Committee applied the doctrine of “Last Clear Chance” and ruled that the loss should be shouldered by respondent alone
Whether the doctrine of last clear chance applies to the case and whether there was contributory negligence by the respondent?
The doctrine of last clear chance, stated broadly, is that the negligence of the plaintiff does not preclude a recovery for the negligence of the defendant where it appears that the defendant, by exercising reasonable care and prudence, might have avoided injurious consequences to the plaintiff notwithstanding the plaintiff’s negligence. The doctrine necessarily assumes negligence on the part of the defendant and contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff, and does not apply except upon that assumption. Stated differently, the antecedent negligence of the plaintiff does not preclude him from recovering damages caused by the supervening negligence of the defendant, who had the last fair chance to prevent the impending harm by the exercise of due diligence. Moreover, in situations where the doctrine has been applied, it was defendant’s failure to exercise such ordinary care, having the last clear chance to avoid loss or injury, which was the proximate cause of the occurrence of such loss or injury.
In this case, the evidence clearly shows that the proximate cause of the unwarranted encashment of the subject check was the negligence of respondent who cleared a post-dated check sent to it thru the PCHC clearing facility without observing its own verification procedure. As correctly found by the PCHC and upheld by the RTC, if only respondent exercised ordinary care in the clearing process, it could have easily noticed the glaring defect upon seeing the date written on the face of the check “Oct. 9, 2003”. Respondent could have then promptly returned the check and with the check thus dishonored, petitioner would have not credited the amount thereof to the payee’s account. Thus, notwithstanding the antecedent negligence of the petitioner in accepting the post-dated check for deposit, it can seek reimbursement from respondent the amount credited to the payee’s account covering the check.
“Contributory negligence is conduct on the part of the injured party, contributing as a legal cause to the harm he has suffered, which falls below the standard to which he is required to conform for his own protection.” Admittedly, petitioner’s acceptance of the subject check for deposit despite the one year postdate written on its face was a clear violation of established banking regulations and practices. In such instances, payment should be refused by the drawee bank and returned through the PCHC within the 24-hour reglementary period. As aptly observed by the CA, petitioner’s failure to comply with this basic policy regarding post-dated checks was “a telling sign of its lack of due diligence in handling checks coursed through it.”
It bears stressing that “the diligence required of banks is more than that of a Roman pater familias or a good father of a family. The highest degree of diligence is expected,” considering the nature of the banking business that is imbued with public interest. While it is true that respondent’s liability for its negligent clearing of the check is greater, petitioner cannot take lightly its own violation of the long-standing rule against encashment of post-dated checks and the injurious consequences of allowing such checks into the clearing system.
*Case digest by Meriam Rika R. Wong, JD-IV, Andres Bonifacio Law School, SY 2019-2020