Jharkhand High Court: Anubha Rawat Choudhary, J. allowed an appeal made by an insurance company regarding their extent of liability towards a deceased as mentioned in the insurance policy.

An FIR was lodged by the owner of a vehicle wherein it was stated that a person (deceased) was authorized to drive his vehicle. In order to save a cow while driving, that person met with an accident and died. His legal representatives (the claimant) filed a claim application, but the insurance company denied its liability. Motor Accident Claims Tribunal (MACT) allowed the claimant’s application under Section 166 of Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 and held the insurance company liable to pay compensation of Rs. 11 lakhs with 6 per cent interest. Hence, this appeal.

Issue: Whether the deceased, who was authorized to drive the vehicle, by the owner of the vehicle, is covered under the insurance policy and if so, to what extent.

Learned counsel Ashutosh Anand, on behalf of the appellant submitted that the Tribunal did not consider the fact that the deceased was driving the vehicle with the permission of the owner so, he won’t be considered a 3rd party as he stepped into the shoes of the owner and thus claimant would be entitled to compensation only after proving that there was no rash driving or negligence on the part of the deceased.

Learned counsel  K. K. Singh, on behalf of the respondent submitted that the point raised by the appellant were raised for the first time and not mentioned in its written statement. It was further contended that the appellant did not make any plea about their extent of liability before the Tribunal and referred to a judgment of Supreme Court Ramchandra v. Regional Manager, United India Insurance Company Ltd., (2013) 12 SCC 84, in which it was rightly held that the appellant was estopped from raising the plea for the first time at the appellant stage.

The Court noted that there was no rash and negligent driving on the part of the deceased as per the police report. It was noted that the reason for the appellant’s denial of its liability to pay compensation, was that the deceased was neither a 3rd party nor a paid driver of the insured owner. It was opined that the liability of the appellant under the policy would be governed by the terms and conditions of the insurance policy. The insurance policy did not cover the list of any gratuitous passenger and no additional premium for such coverage was paid by the insured against the policy.

It relied on the judgment in United India Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Sidharat Raju, 2014 SCC OnLine P&H 3117 where it was held that the deceased steps into the shoes of the owner of the vehicle, and therefore the claimant cannot be said to a third party for the purposes of awarding compensation under the Act. Further reliance was placed on National Insurance Company Ltd. v. Ashalata Bhowmik, (2018) 9 SCC 801 where it was held that liability of an insurance company would be only to the extent of personal accident coverage under the contract of insurance.

In view of the aforesaid decisions, it was held that the extent of liability of the appellant could only be 2 lakhs with 6 percent interest from the date of filing the petition till the payment is made.[TATA AIG General Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Shakuntala Ganeriwal, 2019 SCC OnLine Jhar 642, decided on 25-04-2019]

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