According to a Supreme Court ruling, if a person who has renounced family to serve a religious organization or sect dies in an accident, other members of the sect/organization shall be entitled to compensation. A Supreme Court bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and S K Singh, while widely interpreting the law observed that due to the death of a volunteer there could be substantial loss to a religious order or organization and therefore it must be allowed compensation.
The Supreme Court passed the order on an appeal filed by charitable organization Montford Brothers of St Gabriel that runs various institutions as a constituent unit of the Catholic Church. The person who renounces the world and joins the society is known as ‘Brother’ and such a ‘Brother’ disunites all relations with his natural family. In June 1992, Alex Chandy Thomas, a ‘Brother’ who was director-cum-head master of a school run by the society, died in a motor accident in Assam.
The vehicle was insured with United India Insurance Company and therefore a direction was given to it by a motor accidents tribunal to pay rupees 2.27 lakh to the society with an interest at the rate of 12 per cent. A writ petition was however, filed by the Company in the Gauhati High Court, contending that since the law permitted benefits only to natural family, the society cannot claim compensation under the Motor Vehicles Act for the accidental death of the ‘Brother’. Thus, the order of the tribunal was set aside by the High Court.
But the Supreme Court has emphasized that a new and expanded right has been formed by the Motor Vehicles Act in order to fill an application for compensation and such a right cannot be hedged in by procedures. Stating that those who have suffered losses due to the death of a person will also be included in the term “legal representatives” and therefore, it cannot be narrowed down to natural family. The apex court bench annulled the order passed by the High Court order and gave directions to the company to compensate the society within eight weeks.