Case Briefs

Supreme Court: The Division Bench of S. Abdul Nazeer* and Krishna Murari, JJ., held that neither the percentage of deduction for personal expenses be governed by a rigid rule or formula of universal application nor does it depends upon the basis of relationship of the claimant with the deceased.

Passing a landmark decision, the Bench granted compensation to mother-in-law of the deceased considering her to be of the dependents of the deceased. The Bench remarked,

“It is not uncommon in Indian Society for the mother-in-law to live with her daughter and son-in-law during her old age and be dependent upon her son-in-law for her maintenance.”

Through the impugned judgment, the High Court of Kerala had scaled down the amount of compensation payable to the appellants and thereby modified the award passed by the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal.

Factual Matrix

The appellants had filed the claim petition before the Tribunal seeking compensation on account of the death of one N. Venugopalan Nair in a motor vehicle accident. Noticing that the deceased had four dependants, the Tribunal awarded a total sum of Rs.73,18,971 towards loss of dependency making the total sum Rs.74,50,971 towards compensation with interest at 7.5 per cent per annum.

In appeal the High Court held that the appellant 4, i. e. mother-in-law of the deceased was not a legal representative of the deceased. Similarly, without denying the fact that the deceased was a meritorious person who possessed the qualification of M.Sc. M.Phil and was availing the monthly salary of Rs.83,831, the High Court took the monthly income of the deceased as Rs.40,000/for the purpose of calculation of loss of dependency opining that the deceased was aged 52 years at the time of the accident, hence he would not have earned the same monthly income after his retirement.

Accordingly, the High Court awarded compensation of Rs.23,65,728 towards loss of dependency for preretiral period and a sum of Rs.22,40,000 towards loss of dependency for postretiral period. In total, a sum of Rs.48,39,728 was awarded as compensation by the High Court.

Observation and Analysis

Whether the High Court was justified in precluding the mother-in-law of the deceased as his legal representative?

The MV Act does not define the term ‘legal representative’. Generally, ‘legal representative’ means a person who in law represents the estate of the deceased person and includes any person or persons in whom legal right to receive compensatory benefit vests. A ‘legal representative’ may also include any person who intermeddles with the estate of the deceased; such person does not necessarily have to be a legal heir. Hence, the Bench observed,

“In our view, the term ‘legal representative’ should be given a wider interpretation for the purpose of Chapter XII of MV Act and it should not be confined only to mean the spouse, parents and children of the deceased.”

Opining that the As MV Act is a benevolent legislation, therefore, it calls for a liberal and wider interpretation to serve the real purpose underlying the enactment and fulfil its legislative intent, the Bench held that in order to maintain a claim petition, it is sufficient for the claimant to establish his loss of dependency.

Reliance was placed on Gujarat SRTC v. Ramanbhai Prabhatbhai, (1987) 3 SCC 234, by the Bench, wherein it had been 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 breadwinner of the family and if the breadwinner 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.”

Hence, considering that the mother-in-law of the deceased was staying with the deceased and his family members since a long time and was dependent on him for her shelter and maintenance, the Bench held that she might not be a legal heir of the deceased, but she certainly suffered on account of his death. Therefore, the Bench declared that she was a “legal representative” under Section 166 of the MV Act and was entitled to maintain a claim petition.

Whether the High Court was justified in applying a split multiplier?

The deceased was aged 52 years at the time of the accident and was working as an Assistant Professor on a monthly salary of Rs.83,831. Considering that the deceased was a Selection Grade Lecturer in Mathematics and was a subject expert, the Bench stated that evidence on record also shows that there is acute shortage of lecturers in Mathematics for appointment in colleges and retired Mathematics Professors are  appointed in so many colleges.

It is common knowledge that the teachers, especially Mathematics teachers, are employed even after their retirement in coaching centers. They may also hold private tuition classes. This would increase their income manifold after retirement.”

In the above backdrop, the Bench rejected the findings of High Court that the deceased’s income would necessarily reduce after his retirement, the Bench held that at the time of calculation of the income, the Court has to consider the actual income of the deceased and addition should be made to take into account future prospects. Accordingly, it was held that the High Court was not justified in applying split multiplier in the instant case by bifurcating the deceased’s income as pre- retirement and post-retirement.

What is the amount of compensation that should be awarded to the appellants?

The deceased was aged 52 years at the time of his death and had a permanent job. The annual income of the deceased was Rs.10,00,572, which after income tax deduction came to Rs.8,87,148.

Relying on the decision in National Insurance Company Limited v. Pranay Sethi, (2017) 16 SCC 680, the Bench added additional 15% of his actual salary towards future prospectus, which made the actual salary of the deceased as Rs.1,33,072.

Since the deceased was 52 years at the time of his death, the applicable multiplier was ‘11’.  Similarly, considering that he had four dependants, following compensation was granted to the dependants: (i) Towards Loss of dependency Rs.84,16,815 ( ii) Loss of Estate Rs.16,500 iii) Funeral Expenses Rs.16,500 (iv) Spousal Consortium Rs.44,000 ( v) Parental Consortium Rs.88,000. Total Rs.85,81,815 was granted as compensation along with interest at the rate of 7.5% per annum.

[N. Jayasree v. Cholamandalam Ms General Insurance Company Ltd., 2021 SCC OnLine SC 967, decided on 25-10-2021]

Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together

Appearance by:

For the Appellants: Adv. Seshatalpa Sai Bandaru

For the Respondents: Adv.  Chander Shekhar Ashri

*Judgment by: Justice S. Abdul Nazeer               

Kerala High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Kerala High Court: A. Badharudeen, J., exonerated the insurance company, Bajaj Allianz from liability to pay compensation in a motor accident case. The Bench observed,

“In a three wheeler goods carriage, the driver could not have allowed anybody else to share his seat. No other person whether as a passenger or as a owner of the vehicle is supposed to share the seat of the driver.”

The instant appeal was filed by the insurer-Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Co. Ltd with regard to a motor accident claim. The Insurance Company disputed liability and sought exoneration from liability raising contention that the injured was a gratuitous passenger in a goods vehicle viz., Goods Autorickshaw. Though the appellant sought exoneration, the Tribunal did not allow the same.

The facts of the case were that while the injured was travelling in a Bajaj Goods Autorickshaw along with construction goods to the work site by sitting near the driver of the vehicle and transporting the construction goods, he met with an accident when the said Autorickshaw suddenly turned by its driver. The injured had claimed Rs 1,50,000 as compensation.

The appellant contended that the injured was a gratuitous passenger of the goods vehicle and was travelling in the goods autorickshaw, sharing the seat of the driver where driver alone was permitted to travel.

Hence, the stand of the Tribunal giving the injured the status of a person accompanying the goods carried therein was unsustainable.

In National Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Baljit Kaur, 2004 (1) KLT 938 (SC) = 2004 (2) SCC 1it was held that the term “any person” envisaged under S. 147(1)(b)(i) shall not include any gratuitous passenger, it was held that if the claimant had not been travelling in the vehicle as owner of the goods, he shall not be covered by the policy of insurance.

“No gratuitous passenger can be allowed to travel in a goods vehicle and not even the owner of the vehicle can share the seat of the driver in a goods autorickshaw.”

Hence, the Bench held that, if the claimant had not been travelling in the vehicle as owner of the goods, he shall not be covered by the policy of insurance. In other words, no other person whether a passenger or as a owner of the vehicle was supposed to share the seat of the driver and any such action would be violation of the policy conditions as the policy suggested that the seating capacity of the vehicle involved in the accident was one person and nobody was permitted to travel in the said Goods Autorickshaw, other than the driver.

Observing that the injured was accompanying the Goods Autorickshaw along with construction goods to the work site after sharing the seat of the driver and met with an accident during this course, the Bench allowed the contention raised by the appellant urging full exoneration is to be allowed and contra decision entered into by the Tribunal was stand set aside.

Resultantly, Insurance Company was held not liable to pay the amount and the liability was casted upon the owner of the vehicle. [Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Co. Ltd v. Bheema, 2021 SCC OnLine Ker 4068, decided on 08-11-2021]

Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

Appearance by:

For the Appellant: Adv Sri. Lal George

For the Claimant: Adv Sri. T.B.Shajimon

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose, JJ has held that the strict principles of evidence and standards of proof like in a criminal trial are inapplicable in Motor Accident Claims cases.

“The standard of proof in such like matters is one of preponderance of probabilities, rather than beyond reasonable doubt. One needs to be mindful that the approach and role of Courts while examining evidence in accident claim cases ought not to be to find fault with non-examination of some best eye-witnesses, as may happen in a criminal trial; but, instead should be only to analyze the material placed on record by the parties to ascertain whether the claimant’s version is more likely than not true.”

The Court was hearing the case relating to an accident resulting into the death of a 34-year-old man named Sandeep who was survived by his wife widow, two minor children and a mother; all of whom were dependent on him. His dependents had claimed Rs 60,94,000 as compensation alleging, inter alia, that Sandeep died as a result of the injuries suffered in the abovementioned accident of 25.03.2009, which occurred due to the rash and negligent driving of one Sanjeev Kapoor, the owner­cum-driverof the car in which Sandeep was travelling.

Sanjeev disowned responsibility for the accident by asserting that it was the truck which was coming from the opposite side at a very fast speed, and was being driven in a rash and negligent manner.

According to an eyewitness, however, Sanjeev was driving the car at a very fast speed when it overtook a vehicle and collided head­on against the oncoming truck. The Credibility of the eyewitness was questioned.

Noticing that the eyewitness had, acting as a good samaritan and a responsible citizen, taken the injured persons to the hospital, the Court said that it is commonplace for most people to be hesitant about being involved in legal proceedings and they therefore do not volunteer to become witnesses. Hence, it is highly likely that the name of Ritesh Pandey or other persons who accompanied the injured to the hospital did not find mention in the medical record. There is nothing on record to suggest that the police reached the site of the accident or carried the injured to the hospital.

“Without any personal interest or motive, he assisted both the deceased by taking him to the hospital and later his family by expending time and effort to depose before the Tribunal.”

Further, it is quite natural that such a person who had accompanied the injured to the hospital for immediate medical aid, could not have simultaneously gone to the police station to lodge the FIR. Hence, the High Court ought not to have drawn any adverse inference against the witness for his failure to report the matter to Police especially when the police had themselves reached the hospital upon having received information about the accident.

Not impressed with the way the High Court had approached the matter, the Court said,

“Unfortunately, the approach of the High Court was not sensitive enough to appreciate the turn of events at the spot, or the appellant-claimants’ hardship in tracing witnesses and collecting information for an accident which took place many hundreds of kilometers away in an altogether different State.”

[Anita Sharma v. New India Assurance Co. Ltd., 2020 SCC OnLine SC 1002, decided on 08.12.2020]