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Himachal Pradesh High Court: Jyotsna Rewal Dua, J., partly allowed an appeal and declared that insurance company does not have the right to absolve itself from payment of compensation in absence of valid registration number.

In the present case, due to rash and negligent driving of respondent, an individual named Shri Ram Krishan died on the spot and the other passengers suffered injuries. The family members of the deceased filed for a claim petition under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (‘Act’). The Learned Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal had awarded the claimants a compensation amount and the respondents did not challenge the award hence the award was pronounced ex parte. The tribunal had taken note of the fact that the driver was carrying a valid driving license at the time of the accident and thereby directed the insurance company to satisfy the award fastened upon the insured. The Insurance Company had submitted a reply stating that the vehicle did not have a registration certificate at the time of the accident; thereby the company shall be absolved from the onus of payment of compensation amount due to violation of the insurance policy. However, the issue was not argued before in the lower court and thus due to the issue involving questions of law and evidence the High Court has dealt the matter at length.

The counsel representing the appellant/Insurance Company, Jagdish Thakur submitted that the vehicle was unregistered according to the Chapter IV of the Act thus they were not liable to discharge the compensation amount as awarded by the Tribunal. The appellant placed reliance on Narinder Singh v. New India Assurance Company Ltd., (2014) 9 SCC 324 in support of his argument that plying of vehicle without valid registration number amounts to a fundamental breach in policy. The appellant had also questioned the computation of the award, stating that there were no documentary evidences to the income of the deceased and thus the learned tribunal erred in assuming the income.

The counsel representing the respondents, G.S. Palsra contended on this point that the precedent referred to by the appellants shall not be applicable in the present case due to the present matter dealing with third party liability.

The High Court upon perusal of the impugned judgment, award and the evidences produced, stated that an Insurance Company cannot exonerate itself from its duty to pay the compensation amount simply because the vehicle did not bear a permanent registration number in the cases of third-party liability. The Court stated that the Supreme Court decision in Narinder Singh dealt with cases of claims made by the owner of the vehicle, whereas the present case dealt with claimants being the dependents of the deceased-third party. It pointed out that “when the vehicle was insured towards third party liability, it was done so on the basis of engine number and chassis number. These numbers were duly mentioned in the insurance policy. The insurance is a contract between the insured and the insurer. It was not insured on the basis of temporary registration number or the permanent registration number.” The Court also noted that there was no connection between the cause of the accident and the registration/non-registration of the vehicle. However, placing reliance on the decisions in Shamanna v. Oriental Insurance Co. Ltd., (2018) 9 SCC 650 and Amrit Paul Singh v. TATA AIG General Insurance Co., (2018) 7 SCC 558, the present bench stated that the Insurance company can recover the compensation amount from the insured through the principle of “pay and recover” as laid down in the above precedents.   With regard to the issue of income of the deceased, the Court, due to lack of evidence, took into consideration the minimum wages of the year of the accident and accordingly delivered the calculation.[National Insurance Company Ltd. v. Kamal Kishore, 2019 SCC OnLine HP 932, decided on 05-07-2019]