Kerala High Court: C.S. Dias, J., held that a married daughter and parents of the deceased woman are legal representative under the MV Act and hence, are entitled to claim compensation as a dependant of the deceased. The Bench remarked,
“Even if dependency is a relevant criterion to claim compensation for loss of dependency, it does not mean financial dependency is the ‘ark of the covenant’. Dependency includes gratuitous service dependency, physical dependency, emotional dependency, psychological dependency, and so on and so forth, which can never be equated in terms of money.”
One Sreedevi was mowed down to death by a goods vehicle when she was on her way to work, leaving her two daughters and their maternal grandparents in destitute. The dependents of the deceased, i.e., her two daughters and septuagenarian parents had approached the Tribunal under Section 166 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 claiming compensation from the insured and the insurer of the vehicle. The deceased was a 49 years old widow, who was an anganwadi worker earning a monthly honorarium of Rs.18,000 and was the only breadwinner of her family.
The appellant contended that the accident occurred due to the negligence of the deceased and the respondents were not her legal representatives and dependants. The Tribunal allowed the claim petition, by holding that the respondents were the legal representatives and dependants of the deceased, and permitted the respondents to realise an amount of Rs.17,32,680 with interest and costs from the appellant.
The appellant contended that the Tribunal had erroneously held that the married daughter and parents of the deceased were dependent on her and it was only the unmarried daughter of who was a dependent in true sense.
Disputing the arguments of the appellant, the respondents contended that after the deceased lost her husband, her septuagenarian parents started living with her and her two daughters. The deceased was the sole breadwinner of the family and had been maintaining all the respondents, which proved that the respondents were dependent on her. The respondents argued that for the sole reason that the respondent 1 was recently married, her entitlement to compensation for loss of dependency could not be denied.
Findings of the Court
The Supreme Court in Gujarat SSRTC v. Ramanbhai Prabhatbhai, (1987) 3 SCC 234, had held that, “we should remember that in an Indian family brothers, sisters and brothers’ children and sometimes foster children live together and they are dependent upon the bread-winner of the family and if the bread-winner is killed on account of a motor vehicle accident, there is no justification to deny them compensation relying upon the provisions of the Fatal Accidents Act, 1855 which as we have already held has been substantially modified by the provisions contained in the Act in relation to cases arising out of motor vehicles accidents”
- Should a dependent be a legal representative of the deceased to claim compensation under Section 166 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988?
Although, the term ‘legal representative’ is not defined under the MV Act, the Government of Kerala by SRO No.1286/1989, promulgated the Kerala Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989, Rule 2 (k) of which defines the expression ‘legal representative, which reads thus:
“(k) Legal representative” means a person who in law is entitled to inherit the estate of the deceased if he had left any estate at the time of his death and also includes any legal heir of the deceased and the executor or administrator of the estate of the deceased;”
Opining that the Parliament had consciously used the expressions ‘legal representative’ in Section 166 and ‘legal heirs’ in the Section 163 A and had refrained from using the expression ‘dependent’, despite the recommendations of the Law Commission, the Bench stated that dependency is only a criteria for a legal representative to claim compensation for loss of dependency under Section 166 of the Act, 1988, and is not the ‘be all end all’ criteria to claim compensation under the other pecuniary, non-pecuniary and conventional heads of compensation. The Bench added,
“However, in a claim petition filed under Section 166 of the Act, 1988, the dependent has to be a legal representative of the deceased falling within Rule 2 (k) of the Kerala Rules, 1989; otherwise the expression ‘legal representative’ will be rendered otiose.”
- Are parents and married daughters entitled to claim compensation under MV Act as dependents of the deceased?
After Sreedevi became a widow, her septuagenarian parents started living with her and her daughters, therefore, observing that there was no dispute that the respondents were the legal representatives of the deceased falling within Rule 2 (k) of the Kerala Rules, 1989, the Bench expressed,
“It would be preposterous to accept the contention of the learned counsel for the appellant that a 25 year old daughter would be no longer dependent on her 49 year old mother because she was given in marriage. The bond between a mother and a daughter is eternal.”
Reliance was placed by the Court on National Insurance Company Ltd. v. Birender, (2020) 11 SCC 356, wherein the Supreme Court had held that, “the major married son who is also earning and not fully dependant on the deceased would be still covered by the expression “legal representative” of the deceased.”
In the light of the above, the Bench upheld the decision of the Tribunal that the married daughter was a dependent of Sreedevi, and she was also entitled to compensation for loss of dependency.
Similarly, observing that the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, casts a statutory duty to maintain a senior citizen, who is unable to maintain himself, the Bench opined that even if Sreedevi had neglected to maintain her parents, they were legally entitled to an order of maintenance under the above statute. Therefore, the petition was dismissed and the impugned award was upheld. [United India Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Shalumol, 2021 SCC OnLine Ker 3209, decided on 25-08-2021]
Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant ahs reported this brief.
For the Appellants: Adv. Deepa George
For the Respondents: Adv. Mathews K.Philip and Adv. Manasy. T.