[MV Accident Claims] All HC | What is liability of insurer in accident case of contributory as well as composite negligence; on whom lies burden of proof? Court extrapolates

Allahabad High Court: Dr Kaushal Jayendra Thaker, J., directed the insurance company to indemnify the claimants of the deceased who died in an accident, subject, inter alia, to recovery/deduction of 10% of the amount since the present is a case of contributory negligence.

 Present appeal arose from the accident which injured the family of the deceased (late District Judge) and in which the sole bread earner of the family lost his life in the accident. It has been stated that both the driver of the car and owner of the car died whereas the driver of the truck also lost his life.

Claimants preferred the present appeal against the judgment and award passed by Additional District Judge/Motor Accident Claims Tribunal, Allahabad.

Insurance company challenged the grant of compensation in Durga Verma v. Ranno Devi, FAFO No. 1359 of 2001 and FAFO No. 1365 of 2001 whereby the insurance company challenged the judgments qua quantum and alleged breach of policy condition and have also challenged the finding of the tribunal as far as negligence attributed to the driver of the truck was concerned.

Facts that lead to the present appeals

Husband and father of the claimants respectively died in an accident which occurred in the year 1994. The car which the deceased was driving dashed with another vehicle (a truck) causing the death of drivers of both the vehicles who succumbed to injuries caused by the said accident.

The insurance company contested that the vehicle in which the Fiat car dashed was not involved in the accident and the insurance company was not liable and the driver was not having a valid driving license, hence there was a breach of a policy condition. Insurance company contended that it was a case of contributory negligence on the part of the driver of the car.

Insurance Company preferred two appeals against the award in favour of the heirs of driver of Fiat car and heirs of owner of Fiat car. The injured and heirs of both driver and owner have also filed appeals for enhancement.

Analysis & Decision

The Bench stated that it will advert to the principles of negligence: both contributory as well as composite negligence. Further, it added that it is a case of composite negligence but qua the driver of the Fiat car, it can be a case of contributory negligence.

Relying on the decision of Supreme Court in Pappu v. Vinod Kumar Lamba, (2018) 3 SCC 208 and Sant Lal v. Rajesh, (2017) 8 SCC 590, the Bench stated that the liability would arise if a number of the licence was given and issuing authorities whereabouts were given in absence of the same, the insurance company has to be granted recovery rights from the owner of the truck to recover subject to the procedure suggested in the above two cases.

Insurance company did not file any documentary evidence, however, subject to the fact that the driver of the truck did not possess a proper driving license, they are granted recovery rights from the owner.

Negligence

Negligence means failure to exercise the required degree of care expected of a prudent driver. Negligence is the omission to do something which a reasonable man, guided upon the considerations, which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs, would do, or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would not do. Negligence is not always a question of direct evidence. It is an inference to be drawn from proved facts.

What may be negligence in one case may not be so in another.

Well-Settled Law

At the intersection where two roads cross each other, it is the duty of a fast-moving vehicle to slow down and if the driver did not slow down at the intersection, but continued to proceed at a high speed without caring to notice that another vehicle was crossing, then the conduct of driver necessarily leads to the conclusion that vehicle was being driven by him rashly as well as negligently.

In the instant matter, the Bench observed that:

“Merely, because the driver of the truck was driving a vehicle on the left side of road would not absolve him from his responsibility to slow down vehicle as he approaches the intersection of roads, particularly when he could have easily seen, that the car over which deceased was riding, was approaching intersection.”

Court added that, even if courts may not by interpretation displace the principles of law which are considered to be well settled and, therefore, court cannot dispense with proof of negligence altogether in all cases of motor vehicle accidents, it is possible to develop the law further on the following lines; when a motor vehicle is being driven with reasonable care, it would ordinarily not meet with an accident and, therefore, rule of res-ipsa loquitor as a rule of evidence may be invoked in motor accident cases with greater frequency than in ordinary civil suits [per three-Judge Bench in Jacob Mathew v. State of Punjab, (2005) 6 SCC 1.

It was held that by the above process, the burden of proof may ordinarily be cast on the defendants in a motor accident claim petition to prove that motor vehicle was being driven with reasonable care or that there is equal negligence on the part the other side. In the present case, the vehicles are of unequal magnitude: one is a fiat car and the other a truck; the oral testimony of the witnesses go to show that the truck driver driving the vehicle at an exorbitant speed could not control itself, but at the same time if the driver of the Fiat car would also had been cautious, he would have averted the accident taking place and therefore he is held to be also “co-author” of the accident but to the tune of 10%.

Bench held that, it is case of composite negligence as far as the other inmates of Fiat car are concerned and therefore the insurance company will have to indemnify the claimants however it may recover the said amount to the tune of 10% from the owner-driver and insurance company of the Fiat car. As far as the claimant is concerned who is the widow of the driver of the Fiat car the compensation would be lessened to the tune of 10% as the driver has been held to be negligent to that effect. The driver of the Fiat car should have also taken proper caution and having not done so some negligence is attributed to him also.

Hence, the appeals preferred by the insurance company are decided likewise.

Appeals of claimants were partly allowed. [National Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Durga Verma,  2019 SCC OnLine All 6696, decided on 10-12-2019]

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