All HC | Whether res judicata will apply where issue of negligence already decided by competent Tribunal in claim arising out of same accident? Court examines

Allahabad High Court: Dr Kaushal Jayendra Thaker, J., while addressing the matter observed that:

“…where there are multiple claims, MACT should place all the matters before the same Tribunal and the same tribunal should consolidate the matter and decide the same.” 

The instant appeal was at the behest of the claimants preferred against the award passed by the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal.

Factual Matrix

An accident took place on 26-02-2009 when the deceased along with her husband and another person namely Harendra Singh and others were travelling. The car was being driven by the claimant i.e. the husband. Further, it has been stated that a tanker coming from the opposite direction very negligently and carelessly turned to the right side of the road and rammed into the car causing an accident in which the wife of Harendra Singh, wife of claimant 1 and one other person namely child sustained multiple injuries.

Harendra Singh’s wife died due to the injuries and claimant’s wife suffered pain for almost about 3 months due to which she was hospitalised and later died.

Tribunal

Tribunal framed several issues and came to the conclusion that the husband of the deceased namely claimant 1 who was equally negligent and written the finding of the contributory negligence thereby halving the compensation awarded to the claimants.

Matter being considered in the High Court

In the above-background, the instant matter requires to be considered. the appellants are the legal heirs of the deceased.

Legal representatives rather heirs of the deceased felt aggrieved with the tribunals’ finding on the issue of negligence and compensation as far as the decision of the tribunal on other issues was concerned they attained finality.

Out of the said accident, as has been stated above, one other claim petition was being preferred by Harinder Singh v. Kamal Singh, MACP No. 104 of 2009 under Section 166 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. This matter was tried before another tribunal wherein it was decided that the driver of the truck was solely negligent and claimants were to be compensated.

The above-stated decision was placed before the tribunal whose order is impugned.

Analysis and Decision

The truck rammed into the car causing 3 casualties of persons travelling in the Maruti van and caused injuries to other inmates of the car.

Supreme Court in the decision of Sudarsan Puhan v. Jayanta Mohanty, (2018) 10 SCC 552 and UPSRTC v. Mamta, (2016) 4 SCC 172 held that the appeal is a continuation of the earlier proceedings and High Court is under the legal obligation to decide all the issues of lis and decide it by giving reasons.

Bench stated that the tribunal has committed an error which is apparent on the face of the record and is against the settled principles of law.

Court dealt with the issue in the instant case under separate heads:

Issue of Negligence even in absence of applicability of the doctrine of res judicata and whether the same was rightly decided by the tribunal

Negligence: It means the failure to exercise care towards others which a reasonable and prudent person would in a circumstance or taking action which such a reasonable person would not.

If the injury rather death is caused by something owned or controlled by the negligent party then he is directly liable otherwise the principle of “res ipsa loquitur” meaning thereby “the things speak for itself” would apply.

Contributory Negligence: A person who either contributes or is co-author of the accident would be liable for his contribution to the accident having taken place.

Supreme Court recently in the decision of Archit Saini v. Oriental Insurance Company Ltd., (2018) 3 SCC 365, considered the principles of negligence.

In the decision of Khenyei v. New India Assurance Company Ltd., 2015 LawSuit (SC) 469, the question of joint and several liability was considered.

In the case of contributory negligence, a person who has himself contributed to the extent cannot claim compensation for the injuries sustained by him in the accident to the extent of his own negligence; whereas, in the case of composite negligence, a person who has suffered has not contributed to the accident but the outcome of the combination of the negligence of two or more other persons.

Hence, it can be seen that there is a difference between contributory and composite negligence.

Supreme Court in the decision of T.O. Anthony v. Karvarnan, (2008) 3 SCC 748 has held that in case of composite negligence, injured need not establish the extent of responsibility of each wrong doer separately, nor is it necessary for the court to determine the extent of liability of each wrong doer separately.

Qua applicability Of Doctrine Of Res Judicata where Decision On Negligence Was Decided By competent Tribunal in Claim Arising Out Of The Same Accident :

Doctrine of res judicata applies even if the decision by the earlier court is right or wrong but if it has attained finality between parties the doctrine shall apply and issues decided.

In light of the Gujarat High Court’s decision in United India Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Lajibhia Hamirbhai, the issue of negligence will operate as res judicata.

It is held in the said case that where the parties in two petitions are same, except the claimant, the decision by the tribunal in petition decided earlier, would operate as ‘res judicata’ as far as the issue of negligence is concerned in a subsequent petition.

Supreme Court’s decision in Ishwardas v. State of M.P., (1979) 4 SCC 163, it was held that in order to sustain the plea of res judicata, it is not necessary that all the parties to the litigations must be common. All that is necessary is that the issue should be between the same parties or between the parties under whom they or any of them claimed.

In the instant case, the claimants were being heirs of the deceased who succumbed to the injuries and qua them even if the tribunal was of the opinion that the driver of the car was negligent therefore it was a case of composite negligence.

Court concluded that there was no rebuttable evidence before the tribunal to hold the driver of the car also negligent. Tribunal misdirected itself in venturing to decide the issue afresh without discussing why he would not follow the earlier decision, therefore the said decision required modification.

Question of Legal Representative 

Section 2 (11) of the Code of Civil Procedure defines the term ‘legal representative’.

In the Supreme Court decision of GSRTC v. Ramanbhai Prabhatbhai, (1987) 3 SCC 234, it was held that for claiming compensation under either of the Acts the term legal cannot be given a narrow meaning as ascribed in Fatal Accidents Act 1855. Major, married son & earning son of the deceased can claim compensation. Dependency is not basic criteria for relief in accident cases to the claimants if they are a legal heir or legal representative of the deceased.

Legal Representative of Owner of Vehicle

Claimants before this Court and tribunal are the legal representatives of the deceased as they are husband and children who fall in Class-I heirship.

Hence, in view of the above, the deduction of compensation of claimant 1 by the tribunal cannot be sustained as he was claiming as an heir and not the driver or injured.

Compensation

Relying on the decision of the Supreme Court in Laxmidhar Nayak v. Jugal Kishore Behera, (2018) 1 SCC 746, it was held that the income of the housewife in the year 2009 would be Rs 4,000 per month, the amount would be Rs 48,000 per annum, to which as the deceased was 38 years of age, 25% will have to be added as she was self-employed.

Hence, the appeal was partly allowed and the Judgment and Decree passed by the tribunal shall stand modified to the aforesaid extent.

While parting with the judgment, the Court held that a direction is required to be given to all tribunals in the State that where there are multiple claims, MACT should place all the matters before the same Tribunal and the same tribunal should consolidate the matter and decide so that the situation as it arose in the present matter may not arise.[Dharam Veer v. Kamal Singh, 2020 SCC OnLine All 1404, decided on 26-11-2020]


Advocates who appeared for the matter:

Counsel for Appellant:- Mohan Srivastav
Counsel for Respondent:- Rahul Sahai, K.K.D

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