LRs claim is non-maintainable when accident is the fault of the deceased: SC

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Supreme Court in its recent verdict on 31st August 2018 stated that the insurance claims of the Legal Representatives (LRs) of a deceased is not maintainable if the accident happened due to his gross negligence and thus, allowed the petition of the appellant-insurer.

Facts of the case

On the fateful day of May 20, 2012, late Mr Dilip Bhowmik (43), a resident of Agartala, Tripura was returning home from neighbouring Kathaltali area when he had an accident near the bridge of Agartala Railway Station situated on the bye-pass under Amtali police station. He was driving his own car at that time and suffered serious injuries to his person and later on died at the hospital. No other vehicle or any other person was involved or injured in the accident.

During the settlement of his insurance claim his beneficiaries, his mother Ashalata Bhowmik, his wife and two children maintained a claim of Rs. 68,15,000, which was opposed by appellant-insurer National Insurance Co. Ltd. But Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal, Tripura awarded the respondents (family members of the deceased) a sum of Rs. 10,57,800. The appellant-insurer challenged this verdict of the Tribunal before Tripura High Court on the grounds that within the parameters of Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 and as per Section 147(b) of the Motor Vehicles Act which in no uncertain terms covers Mrrisk of a third party only would be attracted in the present case.

Tripura High Court accepted the argument of the appellant-insurer that the deceased was not the third party within the ambit of Section 147(b) of the Motor Vehicles Act and the accident was a direct result of the rash and negligent driving of the deceased. But the High Court also observed that the policy indemnification is extended to a sum of Rs. 2,00,000 in case of personal accident of the owner-cum-driver. Tripura High Court then ordered, in this case, allowing the claim but with the rider that it should not be treated as a precedent. The Court stated, “it has been established by the claimant-respondents that the premium was paid for the personal accident the insurance company is liable to pay the said compensation, even though it is limited to Rs.2,00,000/- to the claimant-respondents. There is no challenge, however, against the determination of the compensation.”

Court ruling

The appellant-insurer appealed the Tripura High Court ruling in front of the Supreme Court claiming that under Section 166 of the Motor Vehicles Act the claim of the respondents (family members of the deceased) is not maintainable. The case, in the court of Honourable Justices N.V. Ramana and S. Abdul Nazeer for hearing. After a thorough perusal of all the facts regarding this case and also after hearing the arguments of both sets of lawyers the Supreme Court pointed out, “the deceased himself was responsible for the accident. The deceased being the owner of the offending vehicle was not a third party within the meaning of the Motor Vehicles Act.”

The top Court, in this case, referred to a similar case from 2007 and clarified, “liability of the insurer Company is to the extent of indemnification of the insured against the respondent or an injured person, a third person or in respect of damages of property. Thus, if the insured cannot be fastened with any liability under the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, the question of the insurer, liable to indemnify the insured, therefore, does not arise. The High Court was not justified in directing the appellant/insurer to pay the compensation determined by the Tribunal.”

The Apex Court firmly reiterated, “a Claimant, in our view, cannot maintain a claim on the basis of his own fault or negligence and argue that even when he himself may have caused the accident on account of his own rash and negligent driving, he can nevertheless make the insurance company, pay for the same. Therefore, the respondents being the LRs of the deceased could not have maintained the claim petition filed under Section 166 of the Motor Vehicles Act.” But nevertheless, it directed the appellant-insurer to pay “the said sum of Rs. 2,00,000/- with interest @ 9 per cent per annum from the date of the Claim Petition till the date of deposit with the Tribunal within a period of four weeks from today.”

Impact of the judgment

The judgment in this case by the Supreme Court established the rule of law and uphold justice in maintaining the fact that seeking compensation in a situation where the accident is a direct cause of the person’s Mr folly and negligence cannot, otherwise it may create a dangerous precedent where unscrupulous individuals may use this loophole of law so as to make money for their own benefits. The rule of law should be equal for all, not blinded by fear or fervour, guided only by the principles of natural justice and maintain the same sense of integrity and honour as its talisman in endeavouring to bring justice to all.

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