J&K High Court Holds the Owner of the Vehicle Vicariously Liable for the Negligence of his Driver

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On 03.07.2020, Hon’ble Justice Mr. Justice Sanjay Dhar heard the case of United India Insurance Company Ltd. v. Mst. Hanifa and others, via video-conferencing. After hearing, the Court dismissed the appeal and upheld the Tribunal’s Award.

Facts of the Case

Riyaz Ahmed Dar, the deceased, was a driver by profession. On 28.04.2004, he parked his vehicle near a workshop at Rawalpura, Srinagar. He was standing by the side of his vehicle.

The truck knocked the deceased down, resulting in his death. The driver of the truck was driving in a rash and a negligent manner. The claimants (here respondents) are the mother and siblings of the deceased. They sought a compensation of Rs 36 lakhs. On 23.04.2009, the Tribunal awarded a sum of Rs 5,03,000 to the claimants. Out of the awarded sum, an amount of Rs 10,000 each is payable by the driver and the conductor of the offending vehicle. The sum will carry an interest of 6% per annum. The sum should be paid in two months.

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If not, a penal interest of 9% per annum is payable from the date of default. This award aggrieved the insurance company. Thus, the company filed an instant appeal in this Court.

Arguments of the Parties

The claimants argued that the Tribunal is right in its decision.

The appellant argued that the conductor drove the vehicle when the accident occurred. He was not authorized to drive the vehicle. Besides, he did not own a driving license. The insured has, thus, breached the policy condition. Therefore, the appellant is not liable to indemnify the insured.

Court’s Analysis

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The Court found that respondent no. 5, the driver permitted the respondent No. 6, conductor to drive the truck. Hence, the licensed driver permitted an unauthorized person to take charge. Due to this, the conductor caused the accident.

Moreover, the above fact is not disputed. The Tribunal referred to Baldeo Raj v. Smt. Deowati and Ors., 1986 (1) ACC 390 to support its decision. In the above case, the licensed driver allowed the unlicensed conductor to drive the vehicle, causing the accident. The owner was held vicariously liable.

The Court also referred to the case of Skandia Insurance Co. Ltd. vs. Kokilaben Chandravadan & Ors., 1987 (2) SCC 654. The Supreme Court, in that case, held that the owner becomes vicariously liable in a case –

  • where an unauthorized person causes an accident,
  • when the owner had employed a licensed driver and
  • the driver had left the vehicle unattended.

The same is applicable in the present case. The insured-owner had not put an unlicensed person-in-charge of the vehicle. Thus, the insured in this case has not breached the policy condition. Hence, the insurer cannot escape its liability to indemnify the insured.

Court’s Decision

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The respondent no. 4 – the owner is vicariously liable for the negligence of his driver. Thus, the appellant-insurer is liable to pay. There is no reason to interfere with the Tribunal’s findings. Hence, the Court dismissed the appeal.


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