Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: S.M. Modak, J., dealt with some significant issues in a claim petition wherein a widow is earning and has prospects of remarriage.

The present matter dealt with a very interesting issue involving an appeal about the entitlement of widow to the compensation who got remarried during the pendency of petition before Motor Accident Claims Tribunal.

What is the effect of a marriage of widow on her right to claim compensation on account of the death of her husband in a vehicular accident?

Whether due to marriage, her right vanishes?

Further, the issue is whether an earning wife can be said to be dependent of her husband?

MACT did not reject the widow’s claim but allotted less share to her. Insurance company on being aggrieved with the same, came in appeal, wherein the submissions were as follows:

  • the widow was working since the beginning and she was earning separately and as such, she is not depending on the income of her deceased husband and
  • she lost her right to compensation on account of remarriage during the pendency of the petition.

Decision, Law and Analysis

Bench laid down the focus on the following issues:

a] Whether separate earnings of the widow has got any bearing on her right to claim compensation?

b] Whether remarriage of widow dis-entitles her from claiming compensation?

ISSUE OF DEPENDENCY & REMARRIAGE

Bench observed that though the tribunal had outrightly rejected the ground of remarriage, but it apportioned the amount of compensation lesser in comparison to the 2 children and mother.

While analyzing the issue, it was also stated that

The widow is certainly one of the heirs on which property of a Hindu devolves as per intestate succession. Now, it is interesting to see how the word ‘dependent’ has evolved. It has been judicially recognized that –

a] age of the deceased,

b] income of the deceased and

c] number of dependents

are 3 factors to be considered while fixing the quantum of compensation. From his earning the deceased will spend on himself and on his near relatives/dependents. So when a person dies in a vehicular accident, dependents/near relatives losses the amount contributed by the deceased towards them.

Supreme Court has laid down guidelines on how to calculate contribution to personal expenses and contribution towards dependents. It depends upon the status of the deceased (married/unmarried) and on the number of dependents.

More the number of dependents, lesser will be the contribution towards personal expenses.

Bench in view of the above discussion noted the fact that the eligibility of dependency does not come first, it comes later while arriving at the quantum of compensation. Issue of ‘legal representative’ will come first while entertaining the claim petitions.

Supreme Court in the decision of Manjuri Bera v. Oriental Insurance Company Ltd., (2007) 10 SCC 643, held that even married daughter residing with husband (though not dependent on the income of the father) being legal representative is entitled to claim compensation under Section 140 (no faulty liability) of the Motor Vehicle Act.

Punjab and Haryana High Court in Kartar Kaur. v. Manoj Kumar, 2014 SCC OnLine P&H 25130 held that

“Dis-entitling a woman on account of remarriage would go against the proposal of remarriage of widow after the death of the husband. Taking such drastic view would discourage the remarriage after the death of the husband.”

Similarly in National Insurance Company Ltd. v. Nidhi Goel, 2018 SCC OnLine P&H 6920, it is observed that –

“accepting the proposition of Insurance Company would militate against the right of widow to remarry and it would not be in public interest or in the interest of the Society at large.”

In view of the above decisions it can be found that a consistent view has been taken by all the Courts, that remarriage does not disqualify the widow from claiming compensation.

Continuing with the above analysis, Bench added that

the tribunal should consider the situation prevailing when the cause of action arises. At the time when the accident took place, the widow is the legal representative of the deceased, certainly, she is entitled to claim compensation. What we do is to determine the amount of compensation and its apportionment amongst the eligible persons. So when a widow approaches the Tribunal, she wants to exercise her right which has become part of her estate.

Hence, the Court agreed with the consistent view taken by the Courts.

APPLICATION OF MEASURES

In accordance with Supreme Court guidelines to have uniformity in arriving at the income, it can be stated that if the deceased is having 2-3 dependents, it is presumed that he spends 1/3rd on his personal expenses. If the deceased is having 4-6 dependents, it is presumed that he spends 1⁄4th of his income on his personal expenses.

CRUCIAL ISSUE

When she is having a separate income, whether the widow can be said to be depending on the income of the deceased?

There are two aspects with respect to the above issue:

One is deciding the percentage for personal expenses and towards the contribution of dependents.

Second is the apportionment of compensation which comes later.

As per the guidelines of the Supreme Court given in various judgments, if wife is considered as one of the dependents, then there is a tendency to spend more on an individual and percentage of spending on dependents will be less. If number of dependents is more, there is tendency to spend less on an individual and spend more on dependents.

In the instant case, Court observes that both the spouses are earning. Monthly salary available of the deceased is Rs 23, 431. Where salary of widow Pushpa (for the month of January 2014) had come to Rs 40,044.

Bench expressed that, Separate earning of the widow does not relieve the deceased husband from contributing towards the expenses.

To the above observation Court added that if the evidence on the point of spending by every individual spouse could have been available, this Court might have deleted the widow from the list of dependents.

Hence the Court affirmed the percentage of distribution arrived by the tribunal.

Therefore, High Court opined that case for deleting the widow from list of dependents is not made out by the Insurance Company and remarriage will divest the widow from her right to claim compensation.

APPORTIONMENT

Mother of the deceased was also having two earning sons. It is also their responsibility, so why she shall be given 30%? In fact, more attention towards the two children of the deceased should have been paid.

High Court felt that the widow does not deserve to get Rs 4,00,000 as she was already earning and prospects of re-marriage were there. She also had received service benefits of deceased and amount of L.I.C partially.

Amount was apportioned in the following manner:

Widow Rs 2,00,000  

50% of remaining amount of Rs 40,13,000 after deducting Rs 7,00,000

Son Rs 16, 56, 500
Daughter Rs 16,56,500
Mother Rs 5,00,000

[Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Company Ltd. v. Pushpa Narayan Khurde, First Appeal No. 1379 of 2018, decided on 18-12-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court: Dr Kaushal Jyendra Thaker, J., decided an appeal with regard to the claim petition being filed beyond 6 months and the same being dismissed by the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal on the said ground in light of Section 166(3) of the Motor Vehicles Act as amended in 2019.

The instant appeal was filed at the behest of claimants whose claim petition came to be dismissed by the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal holding it barred by limitation as the accident took place on 24-12-2019 and the petition was filed on 20-08-2010 (sic).

The claim petition by MACT was dismissed on the ground of filing of the same beyond 6 months of the date when the accident took place.

The above-stated claim was barred under provisions of Section 166 (3) of the Motor Vehicle Act as amended in 2019.

It has been contended in the present appeal that the Tribunal mechanically held that amended Section 166 (3) of the MV Act subscribes a period of 6 months for filing claim petition and hence the matter could not be entertained.

Appellants counsel submitted that question of law is involved in the present appeal and hence contended that the order of the Tribunal was passed against the settled principle of law.

Further, it was submitted that the instant matter could be viewed from three angles:

Extension of Limitation Period

  • The accident took place in December 2019, even if the assumption made by the Tribunal that Section 166 (3) had been notified and is made applicable is considered, six months’ period would be over during the pandemic. But the pandemic struck us in the month of March, 2020 and the Supreme Court by an omnibus order extended the period of limitation. This aspect should have also been looked into by the Judge. Various orders in reference to the extension of limitation were passed in light of the lockdown.

Therefore it appears that the order passed by the tribunal was done in sheer haste.

No Limitation Period

  • Another aspect to be appreciated was, even if the provisions of Section 166(3) of the MV Act, 2019 were brought on the statute book, Judge could have seen the matter from a different angle that there is substitution of Section 163A with Section 164, where no period of limitation has been prescribed.

Evaluation of the Gazette of India with regard to Amendment Act 2019

  • The third Aspect was that though Section 166(3) of the MV Act was notified but what exactly is the current position of the said provision.

Concluding the instant matter, Bench noted that the provisions under Section 140 of the Principal Act which speaks about the liability of the Owner and/or Insurer to pay compensation in certain cases on the principle of no-fault, Section 163-A of the Principal Act which provides for the special provisions as to payment of compensation based on a structured formula and under Section 166 of the Principal Act which states that legal representative/s can continue to prefer any of the application mentioned hereinabove for compensation as Sections 140, 163-A and 166 of the Principal Act would continue to operate with full vigor till the time Section 51 to 57 of the Amendment Act are notified in the Official Gazette.

Court enquired from the State Law Officer, Mr Ojha in regard to the position of Section 166(3) of the MV Act and he stated that the same has not been brought on the statute book. Section 166 of the 1998 Act would still govern the litigation as of today.

Hence, High Court held that the alternatives were available for MACT, yet it passed the order in sheer haste of disposal while losing sight of the aspects stated above.

Bench directed Virjendra Kumar Singh, Presiding Officer, MACT to remain more vigilant in future while deciding the claim petition under beneficial legislation.

Judgment/Order passed by the Tribunal was quashed and set aside by the Court and the claim petition has been asked to restore. Further, the Court directed the Tribunal to proceed as per Section 166 read with Section 168 of the MV Act as till date amended section dealing with Chapter X, XI, XII of the Act have not been brought on statute book substituting the earlier provision. [Shailendra Tripathi v. Dharmendra Yadav, 2020 SCC OnLine All 1360, decided on 20-11-2020]


Counsels for the Parties:

Appellant: Yogesh Kumar Tripathi, Sanjay Kumar Singh

Respondent: Rahul Sahai

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Rajasthan High Court: DrPushpendra Singh Bhati, J., dismissed a civil appeal seeking to set aside a tribunal order and allow a claim application.

In the present case, the claimant’s deceased husband met with an unfortunate accident while travelling on his motorcycle towards his home. A tractor was allegedly being driven in a rash and negligent manner hit the deceased which led to his demise. An FIR was lodged against the driver of the tractor immediately thereafter.

The counsel representing the appellant/claimant, J. Gehlot submitted that the learned tribunal erred in deciding the issues and referred to the statements deposed by various witnesses. The counsel submitted the deposition of a witness who deposed that the tractor was brought for repair at a workshop but the workshop did not have the facility to repair the tractor. The counsel also drew the attention of the court to a deposition which stated that the tractor was not having any lights for its operation. 

The counsel representing the respondent, M.S. Soni contended the submissions of the appellant and pointed out that one of the appellant-witnesses was actually the father of the deceased and not an eye witness. The counsel also contended by pointing out that one of the witness had deposed that the driver of the tractor was in a drunken state, however could not recognize the driver. It was also pointed out that witnesses failed to throw light on the accident in question. 

The Court upon perusal of the facts and circumstances stated that the depositions of the appellant witnesses is doubtful and the question of the tractor in question is not made out conclusively, as the appellant witnesses have failed to prove any direct involvement of the tractor in question with regard to the accident. The Court also observed that since the involvement of the tractor in question is doubtful, saddling the owner of the tractor with the liability to satisfy the claim will not be possible.[Kuldeep Kaur v. Uda Ram, 2020 SCC OnLine Raj 345, decided on 05-03-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Himachal Pradesh High Court: Sandeep Sharma, J., allowed an appeal which questioned the legality of the Order passed by the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal, H.P. where they dismissed the application of the appellants stating that it was not maintainable as they had failed to demonstrate that the income of the deceased Kishan Singh was not less than the maximum limit of Rs 40,000 per annum.

The issue placed before the Tribunal was, “Whether the petitioners (successors-in-interest of deceased who was employed by the respondent) were entitled to claim compensation in the sum of Rs 15,00,000 along with interest from the respondents jointly and/or severally on account of the death of the deceased in the accident in question as alleged?” The Tribunal held that since the income of the deceased was exceeding the maximum limit of Rs 40,000 per annum which is a maximum limit to maintain a petition under Section 163-A of MV Act, the petition so filed by the petitioners in view of the ration was not maintainable.

The appellants argued that de hors the fact as to whether the income of the deceased is Rs 40,000 or more per annum, once the claim petition has been filed by the claimant, maybe under Section 163-A of the Motor Vehicles Act, the same has to be decided by the Tribunal on merit and the claim petition cannot be thrown out on flimsy grounds of income.

Division Bench of Himachal Pradesh High Court in Oriental Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Sihnu Ram, 2016 SCC OnLine HP 2224 held that once the jurisdiction of the Claims Tribunal has been invoked and during trial evidence has come to the effect that the accident was outcome of rash and negligent act and income of the victim was more than Rs 40,000, the petition under Section 163-A of the Motor Vehicles Act cannot be dismissed. They further held that the mandate of Section 163-A of the Motor Vehicles Act is to provide compensation ‘On Structured formula Basis’ and was not an interim measure. Once it is granted, the victims cannot file a claim petition under Section 166 of the MV Act for grant of enhanced compensation. But, in case the Claims Tribunal comes to the conclusion that the income of the victim is more than Rs 40,000 per annum, it is not supposed to dismiss the claim petition. If the claim petition is dismissed on this ground then the aim, purpose and object of Sections 158(6), 163-A and 166(4) of the Motor Vehicles Act would be defeated.

The High Court concurred with the decision and allowed the appeal of the appellants. They quashed and set aside the award passed by the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal and remanded the matter back to them directing them to decide the claim petition afresh on merit, on the basis of evidence on record, after affording the parties reasonable opportunity(s) to put forth their respective contentions. [Neema v. Sohan Singh, 2019 SCC OnLine HP 1805, decided on 31-10-2019]