Delhi HC Allows Claim Of Widow Whose Husband Died Helping Road Accident Victim, Says Law Must Stand With Good Samaritans
The court said that helping an injured on a public road/highway is the prime duty of everyone.
The Delhi High Court recently allowed appeal of a truck driver's widow, observing that denial of her compensation claim on the ground that the driver added peril himself by getting down his vehicle to help another, was “unconscionable” and “patently erroneous”, as well as opposed to purposes of the Employees' Compensation (EC) Act. “…the reasons assigned by the...
The Delhi High Court recently allowed appeal of a truck driver's widow, observing that denial of her compensation claim on the ground that the driver added peril himself by getting down his vehicle to help another, was “unconscionable” and “patently erroneous”, as well as opposed to purposes of the Employees' Compensation (EC) Act.
“…the reasons assigned by the learned Commissioner that it was in no part of the duty of the deceased to stop his truck and go over to the other side to help someone and by doing so he added peril to his oneself, is not only morally and legally unfathomable but also does not conform with the purpose or the objective of the EC Act as well as the M.V. Act.”
Invoking the principle of “notional extension” underlying Section 3 of the EC Act, Justice Dharmesh Sharma said that the phrase “in the course of employment” encompassed case of the deceased truck driver, who got down his vehicle to help another accident victim, but unfortunately met with his fate while returning to the truck.
“It is well ordained in compensatory jurisprudence that there is a doctrine of “notional extension” of the term “in the course of employment” whereby any accident resulting from some risk incidental to duties comes under the phrase “in the course of employment”.”
The facts of the case were such that the appellant's husband was employed as a truck driver with respondent No.1. On the fateful day, he stepped down the truck to tend to a motor accident victim on the other side of the road/highway.
While returning to the truck, he was hit by an untraced motor vehicle being driven in a rash and negligent manner. Following the incident, he succumbed to his injuries.
The EC Commissioner rejected the claim of truck driver's wife, observing that what he did was not part of his duty and that he added peril himself.
At the outset, Justice Sharma observed that even as per the Commissioner, the deceased was an “employee” of the registered truck owner/employer. Further, there was no evidence of blemish on his part to exclude the employer's liability to pay compensation.
Subsequently, referring to the Supreme Court's decision in Savelife Foundation and Another v. Union of India and Another, which dealt with the plight of “Good Samaritans” who voluntarily came forward to help victims of road accidents, it was added that invocation of the “notional extension” principle in the present case would be in consonance with the public policy of preventing loss of life of motorists on public road/highways as per the EC Act and the Motor Vehicles Act.
Speaking of the need to protect Good Samaritans from legal trouble, Justice Sharma also referred to Section 134A of the MV Act (protection of Good Samaritans), which was introduced pursuant to the decision in Savelife Foundation (Supra), and Article 51A of the Constitution (fundamental duties).
Deprecating the Commissioner's order for having overlooked the fact that helping an injured on a public road/highway is “prime duty of everyone”, the court opined,
“…judicial axiom should be to protect persons from punishment who out of benevolence provide help to a fellow person in need of aid and to reduce any hesitation bystanders may have about giving assistance to those who need it.”
It was added that if legal protection is not provided, it would become impossible for individuals with kind hearts to act out of benevolence, help a person in distress or a victim of motor vehicle accident.
Incidentally, Justice Sharma also noted that the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989 mandate comprehensive “Training Manual” for improving drivers' skills, to make them abreast with life saving techniques so they can provide medical help in case of motor accidents, not only to oneself but to others as well.
In closing, while setting aside the impugned order, the matter was remanded back to the Commissioner for deciding the quantum of compensation payable. Considering that substantial amount of time had passed, Rs. 5 lakhs (with interest) were directed to be paid to the appellant as an interim measure, subject to future adjustment on final determination of compensation.
Advocates Vipin Kumar Mishra, Lalit Kumar Gupta and Manoj Kumar Yadav appeared for appellant/claimant
Advocate Rakesh appeared for respondent No.1/employer
Case Title: Kanta v. Gurvinder Kapoor & Anr.
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Del) 1253