Due to employer’s negligence, an employee suffered 100% disability | Read how Del HC emphasises on principle of res ipsa loquitur and strict liability to pronounce decision

Delhi High Court: Anup Jairam Bhambhani, J., emphasizing the principle of res ipsa loquitur and placing a detailed explanation on the same granted just and fair compensation to a person who was 100% disabled due to an accident at his place of work.

Factual Backdrop

Petitioner’s son (Bharat) who was 28 years of age was the victim of an accident at the age of about 21 years which had left him 100% disabled. Instant petition was filed by petitioner’s father since petitioner was stated to be virtually bed ridden and not in a position to file to pursue his claim against the respondents.

Petitioner had made claims against the respondents BSES Rajdhani Power Limited and Bryn Construction Company.

Further, it was submitted that petitioner had suffered an accident due to certain work performed by Bryn for BRPL, which led to the filing of the present petition.

Cause of Permanent Disability

 Bharat, who was then about 21 years of age, while working as an electrician with Bryn, was tasked with rectifying a fault in an electricity pole that was causing fluctuation in the electricity supply at a farmhouse and suffered a fall while performing the task since the electricity pole that he had climbed on, snapped and fell.

Bharat’s dismal physical state apart, it was also evident to this court that Bharat was a psychological wreck, not least because in the course of interaction with this court, he broke- down on several occasions.

Depression and Anxiety

 As per medical opinion in regard to Bharat’s psychological state, his level of mental depression and anxiety fall in the “abnormal range”.

Questions for Consideration

  • Given his medical condition, what course of action should be adopted for Bharat’s further rehabilitation, continuing care and welfare?
  • Is Bharat entitled to receive any monetary compensation for the injury suffered by him as a result of the accident; if so, from which of the respondent or respondents?
  • If the answer to (ii) above is in the affirmative, in what manner should the compensation be calculated?

Analysis, Law and Decision

While analyzing and penning down this interesting decision, Court addressed a very fundamental issue, whether Bharat was an ‘employee’ of Bryn or was engaged by Bryn to perform the task that led to the accident.

It was noted that Bryn did not expressly admit that Bharat was their employee; nor that he had been engaged by them to perform the task in question.

However, there was also no denial of any kind, whether express or implied, that Bharat was working for Bryn. The thrust of Bryn’s counter-affidavit is that BRPL is responsible to compensate Bharat for the injury, since at the relevant time Bharat was working under BRPL’s supervision and performing BRPL’s tasks.

Court took note of the fact that while BRPL and Bryn both contended that all requisite safety equipment and precaution were made available by them, neither BRPL nor Bryn explained why such equipment, if available, failed to protect Bharat from the serious injury he suffered. 

Opinion of the Court

Bench opined that Bharat was working for Bryn and was tasked with certain maintenance work to be performed on an electricity pole owned by BRPL; which pole, it turned-out, was not strong enough to take Bharat’s weight or was not rooted securely in the ground, and thereby fell, as a result of which Bharat sustained serious injuries. It is also evident that Bharat was not provided any safety gear before he was directed to climb the pole to undertake the task.

 Principle of res ipsa loquitur

High Court added to its analysis that the instant matter would be squarely covered by the principle of res ipsa loquitur, whereby no detailed evidence, much less a trial, is required to establish ex-facie negligence on the part of BRPL and Bryn.

The said maxim was lucidly explained in the leading Supreme Court decision of Shyam Sundar v. State of Rajasthan, (1974) 1 SCC 690,

 The maxim res ipsa loquitur is resorted to when an accident is shown to have occurred and the cause of the accident is primarily within the knowledge of the defendant. The mere fact that the cause of the accident is unknown does not prevent the plaintiff from recovering the damages, if the proper inference to be drawn from the circumstances which are known is that it was caused by the negligence of the defendant. 

Elaborating further, the Court stated that the accident could not have occurred had Bryn and/or BRPL not been negligent in taking reasonable precautions to avoid it; which gave rise to their strict liability for the injuries sustained by Bharat.

The undated declaration with no proof of payment made to Bharat, though the declaration signed by Bryn accepting payment of a small sum of compensation in full and final settlement from Bryn and absolving them of any further liability.

In Court’s view, the above-mentioned declaration, deserved no credence or value since it smacked of being a document procured by Bryn precisely for the purpose of absolving itself of any further claim or liability vis-à-vis Bharat, by suborning a hapless and resourceless victim with a small amount of monetary bait, knowing full well that their actual liability would be much more.

Bench further expressed that merely because there were more than one respondent attempting to foist blame or liability on each other, that would not defeat the just claim of the petitioner’s son.

Hence, both respondents would be held jointly and severally liable, giving them liberty to recover the whole or any part of compensation paid, from one another.

High Court’s Inference

  • Without delving into the technical semantics of whether Bharat was an ‘employee’ of Bryn within the meaning of the Employee’s Compensation Act, suffice it to say that Bharat was performing the task in question for Bryn and at their instance
  • Bharat is unable to perform even the most basic, personal, daily chores himself and is all but 100% dependent on others; and as a result, though Bharat is living, he is barely alive;
  • On the principle of ‘strict liability’, both Bryn and BRPL are, jointly and severally, liable to compensate Bharat for putting him in his current state;
  • Section 4(2)(a) of the Employee’s Compensation Act mandates that apart from the liability to pay compensation, the employer is also under obligation to reimburse all actual medical expenses incurred by an employee for treatment of injuries. Furthermore, section 4-A provides that failure of an employer to pay compensation in a timely manner would attract payment of both interest and penalty for the delayed payment of compensation;
  • Reading the Bryn-BRPL Agreement and section 12 of the Employee’s Compensation Act together, it is seen that section 12 also fixes liability upon the “principal” for payment of compensation to an injured employee, with a right in the principal to recover the same from the contractor, if work was being carried-out by a contractor. In the present case the principal would therefore be BRPL and the contractor would be Bryn
  • Allowing the petition, Court awarded Bharat relief in two broad categories:
  1. Monetary Relief
  2. Non-Monetary Relief by way of directions.

Details of the relief can be referred to in the Judgment.

In view of the above discussion, petition was disposed of. [Kehar Sigh v. GNCTD, 2021 SCC OnLine Del 4198, decided on 25-08-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

For the Petitioner: Prabhsahay Kaur, Amicus Curiae.

Saraswati Thakur, Advocate.

For the Respondents: Satyakam, Additional Standing Counsel for GNCTD/R1

Ravi Gupta, Senior Counsel with Sunil Fernandes, Standing Counsel for BRPL-RPL with Anju Thomas, Shubham Sharma and Sachin Jain, Advocates for R2.

A.K. Sharma, Advocate for R3. Saurabh Sharma, Advocate for Indian Spinal Injuries Centre.

Sayli Petiwale, Advocate for Anil Mittal, Advocate for State of U.P.

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