Allahabad High Court: The Division Bench of Dr Kaushal Jayendra Thaker and Ajit Singh, JJ., addressed an interesting question as to whether the tribunal could due to the prolonged litigation re-decide compensation already awarded in an accident claim or it was to confine itself to the objection raised by the owner of the vehicle, which was a liability to pay compensation.
The facts of the instant case were such that the original claimant who was going on his vehicle at 7.45 a.m and was hit by bus bearing No. DL IP 6567 which was being driven by driver rashly and negligently. The injured was rushed to the hospital where he was treated for injuries received due to an accident. On petition being filed for the claim of compensation, summons were issued to the owner of the bus (owner), namely, Manoj Kumar. The insurance company was permitted to contest the petition under Section 170 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. However, due to the non-appearance of the owner, the matter proceeded ex parte and since the insurance of the vehicle was not proved, an award was passed in the favour of the injured on 27-09-2010.
Subsequent Award granted by the Tribunal
Subsequently, during the execution petition, the owner claimed that his vehicle was insured and the insurer would be liable to satisfy the decree. It was further contended by the owner that the summons never reached him, therefore, ex-parte order against him was liable to be set aside in per Order 9, Rule 13 of CPC. Meanwhile, the injured died out of the injuries sustained due to the accident and medical evidence was also filed by his legal representatives (claimant).
The Tribunal permitted owner to produce documents so as to prove that the vehicle was insured and went to decided the matter afresh. The Tribunal on re-appreciation of evidence opined that the deceased died due to kidney failure and disallowed majority of the claim amount under the head of medical expenses on the ground that the documents were not proved and granted paltry sum of Rs. 1,19,000/- as medical expenses as against more than twenty lacs spent by the claimant by the time award dated 27-09-2010 was pronounced. However, regarding the question of liability to pay compensation, the Tribunal had fastened the insurer with the liability.
Earlier, the Tribunal while deciding the claim petition on 27-09-2010, granted medical expenses which came to Rs. 20,84,750, which was rounded up to Rs. 20,16,500/- and loss of five months’ salary for(163 days), which came to Rs. 63,250/- and Rs. 5,000/- for pain shocks and sufferings.
Whether the tribunal was justified in re-deciding the compensation already awarded?
The Tribunal, in subsequent proceedings, went on to hold that the death was due to dialysis which did not had any causal connection with the accident and reduced the compensation on that ground. This finding could not withstand the judicial scrutiny as it was not within the purview of the tribunal to decide how the claimant died while deciding issue relating to negligence and was beyond the purview of the said issue.
It is settled position of law that the award of the Claims Tribunal shall be paid by owner or driver of the vehicle in the accident and they would be indemnified by insurer. The Tribunal committed a mistake rather irregularity by setting aside the award. The Tribunal further committed an error by re-deciding the compensation. The decree could have been set aside in part namely qua issue of liability as it was a award which could be set aside in part there was definitely severable decree. The Bench opined that, one way for the Tribunal to resolve the controversy and avoid prolonged litigation was to direct the owner to pay the compensation and later on have it indemnified by the insurer, or what could have been done was the Tribunal to decide the matter of liability alone rather that re-fixing the compensation as the Tribunal was not even asked to reconsider the question of quantum and interest.
Do personal right of action abate with the death of the person?
Citing the decision in Madhuben Maheshbhai Patel v. Joseph Francis Mewan, 2014 LawSuit (Guj) 2214, the Bench dealt with the issue of applicability of the maxim “actio personalis moritur cum persona” which translates to “on the death of original claimant, personal right of action abates”, The Bench opined that the said maxim could not be imported to defeat the purpose and object of a social welfare legislation like Motor Vehicles Act.
“Once the status of claimants as legal heirs or legal representatives is conceded and acknowledged, to deny benefit of compensation to them on the ground that injury was personal to the claimant, it will be giving a premium to the wrong doer and it would defeat the very purpose and object of beneficial piece legislation.”
Hence, even after death of injured, claim petition does not abate and the right to sue survives to his heirs and legal representatives.
Verdict of the Court
In case of motor accidents, the endeavour is to put the dependents/ claimants in the pre-accidental position. Considering that the injured which was 38 years at the time of the accident, suffered 40% permanent disability and was in permanent government service earning a sum of Rs. 11500/- per month and that 15 years had already elapsed and 9 years had elapsed after the death of the claimant, the Bench held his medical expenses as granted by the Tribunal in its order dated 27-09-2010 should be maintained entirely. The additional amount of five months’ salary as actual loss to the estate granted by the Tribunal was also maintained.
Further, an award of a lump-sum amount of two lacs of rupees in addition to the compensation as loss to estate and mental harassment to the legal heirs for protracted litigation was also awarded. Since, the injured had passed away, his family was awarded a further sum of two lacs and fifty thousand for loss to estate and additional sum of Rs 50000 for mental trauma and incidental expenses for looking after the deceased after he suffered the injuries. Conclusively, total compensation for a sum of Rs.24,00,000 was granted to the claimant which was to be paid by the insured. As far as issue of rate of interest was concerned, it was held to be 7.5% in view of the latest decision of the Supreme Court in National Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Mannat Johat, 2019 (2) T.A.C.705 (S.C.) from the date of the filing of the claim petition till the date of actual deposit.[Satish Chand Sharma v. Manoj Kumar, FAFO No. 3160 of 2018, decided on 26-03-2021]
Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has reported the brief.
Appearance before the Court by:
Counsel for Appellant: Abhishek, Umesh Kumar Singh
Counsel for Respondent: Nishant Mehrotra