Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Taking note of an important legal question raised by the High Court of Kerala while hearing a Motor Vehicle Accident claim case, the 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose, JJ has agreed to decide the following question:

“Whether in the matter of awarding costs, the procedure and rules framed under the Constitution, CPC and the Rules made thereunder, for `Courts’, could be resorted to by the Claims Tribunal which is apparently, not a `Court.”

The petitioner in the Special Leave petition, challenged the Kerala High Court’s judgment whereby the High Court upheld the compensation granted by the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal, Kottayam in favour of the injured respondent. It was argued that

“the Tribunal does not possess any authority to award any costs as incidental to its power over the parties or the subject matter of the litigation, and the Tribunal being constituted under a special enactment is to be governed solely by the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.”

The Court, hence, allowed the special leave petition to the limited extent of examining the legal issue raised by the petitioner.

Advocate N.Vijayaraghavan will be assisting the Court as  amicus curiae.

[ICICI Lombard General Insurance Company v. MD Davasia,  2021 SCC OnLine SC 79, order dated 11.02.2021]


Appearance before the Court by

For Petitioner:  Rana Mukherjee, Sr.Adv., Nagesh, Adv., Daisy Hannah, Adv. and Shekhar Kumar, AOR.

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case where the 3-judge bench of NV Ramana*, SA Nazeer and Surya Kant*, JJ increased the total motor accident compensation of Rs 22 lakhs awarded by the Delhi High Court to Rs 33.20 lakhs after a motor vehicle accident claimed the lives of a man and his pregnant wife, leaving behind his parents and 2 children aged merely 3 and 4, Justice NV Ramana took the liberty to write a concurring opinion with respect to the issue of calculation of notional income for homemakers and the grant of future prospect with respect to them, for the purposes of grant of compensation.

Below are certain facts and figures highlighted by Justice Ramana in his judgment:

 In India, according to the 2011 Census, nearly 159.85 million women stated that “household work” was their main occupation, as compared to only 5.79 million men.

As per the Report of the National Statistical Office of the Ministry of Statistics & Programme Implementation, Government of India called “Time Use in India 2019”, reflects that, on an average, women spend nearly 299 minutes a day on unpaid domestic services for household members versus 97 minutes spent by men on average.

In a day, women on average spend 134 minutes on unpaid caregiving services for household members as compared to the 76 minutes spent by men on average.

The total time spent on these activities per day makes the picture in India even more clear-

“ women on average spent 16.9 and 2.6 percent of their day on unpaid domestic services and unpaid caregiving services for household members respectively, while men spent 1.7 and 0.8 percent.”

Need for fixing notional income for a homemaker

Ramana, J noticed that the sheer amount of time and effort that is dedicated to household work by individuals, who are more likely to be women than men, is not surprising when one considers the plethora of activities a housemaker undertakes. However, the conception that housemakers do not “work” or that they do not add economic value to the household is a problematic idea that has persisted for many years and must be overcome.

Therefore, the issue of fixing notional income for a homemaker, therefore, serves extremely important functions.

“It is a recognition of the multitude of women who are engaged in this activity, whether by choice or as a result of social/cultural norms. It signals to society at large that the law and the Courts of the land believe in the value of the labour, services and sacrifices of homemakers. It is an acceptance of the idea that these activities contribute in a very real way to the economic condition of the family, and the economy of the nation, regardless of the fact that it may have been traditionally excluded from economic analyses. It is a reflection of changing attitudes and mindsets and of our international law obligations. And, most importantly, it is a step towards the constitutional vision of social equality and ensuring dignity of life to all individuals.”

Rationale behind the awarding of future prospects

It was noticed by Ramana, J that the rationale behind the awarding of future prospects is no longer merely about the type of profession, whether permanent or otherwise, although the percentage awarded is still dependent on the same. The awarding of future prospects is now a part of the duty of the Court to grant just compensation, taking into account the realities of life, particularly of inflation, the quest of individuals to better their circumstances and those of their loved ones, rising wage rates and the impact of experience on the quality of work.

Notional income for earning victims i.e. where the victim is proved to be employed but claimants are unable to prove the income before the Court

Once the victim has been proved to be employed at some venture, the necessary corollary is that they would be earning an income. No rational distinction can be drawn with respect to the granting of future prospects merely on the basis that their income was not proved, particularly when the Court has determined their notional income.

Notional income for non-earning victims

The principle of awarding of future prospects must apply with equal vigor, particularly with respect to homemakers. Once notional income is determined, the effects of inflation would equally apply.

“No one would ever say that the improvements in skills that come with experience do not take place in the domain of work within the household.”

Summary of observations

  1. Grant of compensation, on a pecuniary basis, with respect to a homemaker, is a settled proposition of law.
  2. Taking into account the gendered nature of housework, with an overwhelming percentage of women being engaged in the same as compared to men, the fixing of notional income of a homemaker attains special significance. It becomes a recognition of the work, labour and sacrifices of homemakers and a reflection of changing attitudes. It is also in furtherance of our nation’s international law obligations and our constitutional vision of social equality and ensuring dignity to all.
  3. Various methods can be employed by the Court to fix the notional income of a homemaker, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case.
  4. The Court should ensure while choosing the method, and fixing the notional income, that the same is just in the facts and circumstances of the particular case, neither assessing the compensation too conservatively, nor too liberally.
  5. The granting of future prospects, on the notional income calculated in such cases, is a component of just compensation.

[Kirti v. Oriental Insurance Company Ltd., 2021 SCC OnLine SC 3, decided on 05.01.2020]


** Justice Surya Kant has penned the judgment

*Justice NV Ramana has penned a concurrent opinion.

Know Thy Judge| Justice N.V. Ramana

ALSO READ

Can subsequent death of a dependent be a reason for reduction of motor accident compensation? Supreme Court answers

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case dealing with motor vehicle accident that claimed the lives of a man and his pregnant wife, leaving behind his parents and 2 children aged merely 3 and 4, the 3-judge bench of NV Ramana*, SA Nazeer and Surya Kant*, JJ has increased the total motor accident compensation of Rs 22 lakhs awarded by the Delhi High Court to Rs 33.20 lakhs.

The Court took note of the following facts for arriving to said conclusion:

At the time of death, there in fact were four dependents of the deceased and not three. The subsequent death of the deceased’s dependent mother ought not to be a reason for reduction of motor accident compensation.

“Claims and legal liabilities crystallise at the time of the accident itself, and changes post thereto ought not to ordinarily affect pending proceedings.”

The claimants have been unable to produce any document evidencing the deceased’s income, nor have they established his employment as a teacher; but that doesn’t justify adoption of the lowest-tier of minimum wage while computing his income. From the statement of witnesses, documentary evidence-on-record and circumstances of the accident, it is apparent that he was comparatively more educationally qualified and skilled and maintained a reasonable standard of living for his   family.

“Preserving the existing standard of living of a deceased’s family is a fundamental endeavour of motor accident compensation law.”

Given how both deceased were below 40 years and how they have not been established to be permanent employees, future prospects to the tune of 40% must be paid.

Justice NV Ramana took the liberty to write a concurring opinion with respect to the issue of calculation of notional income for homemakers and the grant of future prospect with respect to them, for the purposes of grant of compensation. He said,

“… the conception that housemakers do not “work” or that they do not add economic value to the household is a problematic idea that has persisted for many years and must be overcome.”

Conception that housemakers do not add economic value to the household is “a problematic idea”; Future prospect must be granted in case of motor accident of a non-earning victim: SC

[Kirti v. Oriental Insurance Company Ltd., 2021 SCC OnLine SC 3, decided on 05.01.2020]


** Justice Surya Kant has penned the judgment

*Justice NV Ramana has penned a concurring opinion. Read his opinion here

Know Thy Judge| Justice N.V. Ramana

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]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Taking note of the fact that several Tribunals and High Courts have been awarding compensation for both loss of consortium and loss of love and affection, the bench directed the Tribunals and High Courts to award compensation for loss of consortium, which is a legitimate conventional head.

“There is no justification to award compensation towards loss of love and affection as a separate head.”

The 3-judge bench of SA Nazeer, Indu Malhotra and Aniruddha Bose, JJ was hearing an issue relating to determination of compensation in a motor vehicle accident case.

On Loss of Consortium

The Constitution Bench in National Insurance Company Limited v. Pranay Sethi, (2017) 16 SCC 680, has recognized only three conventional heads under which compensation can be awarded viz. loss of estate, loss of consortium and funeral expenses.

Explaining the law on loss of consortium, the Court said that the right to consortium would include the company, care, help, comfort, guidance, solace and affection of the deceased, which is a loss to his family. With respect to a spouse, it would include sexual relations with the deceased spouse. Parental consortium is granted to the child upon the premature death of a parent, for loss of parental aid, protection, affection, society, discipline, guidance and training. Filial consortium is the right of the parents to compensation in the case of an accidental death of a child.

The Court noticed that in Magma General Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Nanu Ram, (2018) 18 SCC 130, this Court gave a comprehensive interpretation to consortium to include spousal consortium, parental consortium, as well as filial consortium. Loss of love and affection is comprehended in loss of consortium.

The Court, hence, said that it was necessary to provide uniformity with respect to the grant of consortium, and loss of love and affection.

On Future Prospects

In the wake of increased inflation, rising consumer prices, and general standards of living, future prospects have to be taken into consideration, not only with respect to the status or educational qualifications of the deceased, but also other relevant factors such as higher salaries and perks which are being offered by private companies these days. The dearness allowance and perks from which the family would have derived monthly benefit, are required to be taken into consideration for determining the loss of dependency.

The Court, further, reiterated:

  • The age of the deceased should be the basis for applying the multiplier.
  • Reasonable figures on conventional heads, namely, loss of estate, loss of consortium and funeral expenses should be Rs. 15,000/-, Rs. 40,000/- and Rs. 15,000/- respectively. The aforesaid amounts should be enhanced at the rate of 10% in every three years.
  • The decision in Sarla Verma v. Delhi Transport Corporation, (2009) 6 SCC 121, is to be relied upon for determination of the multiplicand, the deduction for personal and living expenses, and the selection of multiplier.

[United India Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Satinder Kaur, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 410 , decided on 30.06.2020]


Also read:

Future income of salaried or self-employed person to be considered while computing compensation under MV Act

Court duty-bound to provide ‘just compensation’ under MV Act irrespective of plea; compensation for ‘loss of consortium’ awarded under Article 142

Case BriefsForeign Courts

High Court of South Africa, Eastern Cape Division: Plaintiff had approached this court before a Single Judge Bench of E. Revelas, J., for grant of damages against the defendant for injuries sustained by him during a motor vehicle accident.

Counsel of defendant, Advocate Paterson conceded that in absence of any contrary version the plaintiff’s account of the accident had to be accepted but since plaintiff did not apply brakes shows his negligence and that there was contributory negligence on his part.

High Court was of the view that even if some other driver would have reacted differently in the same circumstances, it does not mean that the plaintiff’s responses and actions were negligent. It was noticed that if the plaintiff had applied brakes it could have caused the vehicle to skid into other traffic and could have then resulted in contributory negligence. Court found the other colliding vehicle’s driver to be aggressive, reckless and inconsiderate and the one to be wholly blamed. Therefore, the defendant was directed to pay 100% of damages to the plaintiff. [Nicholas v. Road Accident Fund, Case No. 3880 of 2015, decided on 27-11-2018]

 

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In reference relating to the computation of compensation under Sections 163-A and 166 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (MV Act) and the methodology for computation of future prospects, giving a unanimous decision, the 5-judge bench of Dipak Misra, CJ and Dr. AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, Dr. DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, JJ held that the determination of income while computing compensation has to include future prospects so that the method will come within the ambit and sweep of just compensation as postulated under Section 168 of the Act. The bench said:

“To follow the doctrine of actual income at the time of death and not to add any amount with regard to future prospects to the income for the purpose of determination of multiplicand would be unjust.”

Stating that this concept is to be applied to salaried employees and self-employed persons, both, the Court explained that the purchasing capacity of a salaried person on permanent job when increases because of grant of increments and pay revision or for some other change in service conditions, there is always a competing attitude in the private sector to enhance the salary to get better efficiency from the employees. Similarly, a person who is self-employed is bound to garner his resources and raise his charges/fees so that he can live with same facilities. Regarding self-employed persons it was said:

“To have the perception that he is likely to remain static and his income to remain stagnant is contrary to the fundamental concept of human attitude which always intends to live with dynamism and move and change with the time.”

The Court, hence, laid down the following guidelines for computation of compensation:

  • While determining the income, an addition of 50% of actual salary to the income of the deceased towards future prospects, where the deceased had a permanent job and was below the age of 40 years, should be made. The addition should be 30%, if the age of the deceased was between 40 to 50 years. In case the deceased was between the age of 50 to 60 years, the addition should be 15%. Actual salary should be read as actual salary less tax.
  • In case the deceased was self-employed or on a fixed salary, an addition of 40% of the established income should be the warrant where the deceased was below the age of 40 years. An addition of 25% where the deceased was between the age of 40 to 50 years and 10% where the deceased was between the age of 50 to 60 years should be regarded as the necessary method of computation. The established income means the income minus the tax component.
  • The age of the deceased should be the basis for applying the multiplier.
  • Reasonable figures on conventional heads, namely, loss of estate, loss of consortium and funeral expenses should be Rs. 15,000/-, Rs. 40,000/- and Rs. 15,000/- respectively. The aforesaid amounts should be enhanced at the rate of 10% in every three years.
  • The decision in Sarla Verma v. Delhi Transport Corporation, (2009) 6 SCC 121, is to be relied upon for determination of the multiplicand, the deduction for personal and living expenses, and the selection of multiplier. [National Insurance Company Limited v. Pranay Sethi, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 1270, decided on 31.10.2017]