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.
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.
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:
50% of remaining amount of Rs 40,13,000 after deducting Rs 7,00,000
||Rs 16, 56, 500
[Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Company Ltd. v. Pushpa Narayan Khurde, First Appeal No. 1379 of 2018, decided on 18-12-2020]