[MV Act] Chh HC | Whether ‘gratuitous passenger’ is covered for compensation under ‘Liability Only Policy’ by insurance company? Ambit of “Legal representatives’ discussed

Chhattisgarh High Court: A Division Bench of P. R. Ramchandra Menon and Parth Prateem Sahu JJ., allowed the appeal and modified the impugned award.

The facts of the case are such that on 18-05-2011, Karan along with other labourers was travelling on a Dumper i.e. ‘offending vehicle’ to village Badeli when they met with an accident due to rash and negligent driving of offending vehicle by non-applicant 4 and Karan came under the offending vehicle and died. A claim application under Section 166 of the Motor Vehicle Act was filed before the learned Claims Tribunal and liability to pay the compensation was fastened on the insurance company.

Counsel for the appellants submitted that deceased was travelling as ‘gratuitous passenger’ in a ‘goods carriage vehicle’; the driver of offending vehicle was not possessing valid and effective driving licence, claimants are not entitled to any amount of compensation as it is a breach of conditions of the insurance policy.

Counsel for respondents submitted that it was a burden upon the Insurance Company to prove that on the date of accident, driver of the offending vehicle was not possessing a valid and effective driving licence, in which, it failed and no evidence has been brought on record by Insurance Company in support of their ground to prove that non-applicant No.4 was not possessing valid and effective driving licence.

Issue 1: The Court observed that in view of undisputed facts and evidence available on record it was clear that deceased was travelling in a goods carriage vehicle, he was not an employee of the owner of offending vehicle; the policy issued was only ‘Liability Only Policy’, no premium paid for any gratuitous passenger travelling in the vehicle, Insurance Company cannot be held liable to satisfy the amount of compensation against the death of Karan alias Phekan whose status was of ‘gratuitous passenger’.

Issue 2: The Court further observed that as far as the ground relating to no licence is Concerned the licence itself was not placed on record, then it cannot be said that Insurance Company has not discharged its burden to prove that non-applicant No.4 was not possessing valid and effective driving licence, in fact, it is a case of no licence. The Court thus held that nonapplicant No.4 was possessing valid and effective driving licence is perverse and it is hereby set aside.

Issue 3: The Court observed that as far as the ground that claimants are not entitled to any amount of compensation as they are not legal representatives and dependant upon the deceased is concerned, it was stated that In view of aforementioned evidence available on record when the claimants have not filed any document to show their relationship with deceased nor examined any independent witness of the village where the deceased was residing to prove that deceased was residing with claimants on the date of the accident.

The Court respect to maintaining an application by a person not dependant on the deceased observed that “the definition contained in Section 2(11) CPC is inclusive in character and its scope is wide, it is not confined to legal heirs only. Instead, it stipulates that a person who may or may not be legal heir competent to inherit the property of the deceased can represent the estate of the deceased person. It includes heirs as well as persons who represent the estate even without title either as executors or administrators in possession of the estate of the deceased. All such persons would be covered by the expression ‘legal representative’.”

 The Court thus held that the claimants failed to prove that they were dependant upon deceased, the relationship being respondent 1 to be real sister of deceased not proved. Non-applicant 2 is earning and nothing is mentioned about the husband of applicant 1 and father of applicants 2 to 7.

In view of the above, the appeal was allowed and Insurance Company was exonerated from its liability to satisfy the amount of compensation and instead it was cast upon non-applicant 3/registered owner of the offending vehicle.[United India Insurance Company v. Kimani Devi,  2020 SCC OnLine Chh 881, decided on 09-10-2020]


Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has put this story together

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