The Gujarat High Court recently directed the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal to consider the claim petition filed by a motor accident victim, even though there was a delay of about 1 month in reporting the matter to the Police.
The direction was passed in a First Appeal filed under Section 173 of the Motor Vehicles Act 1988 challenging dismissal of the claim petition. Attention was drawn to the fact that the victim herein was earning INR 1,50,000 from his agricultural work and therefore the claimants were entitled to get compensation worth INR 11,00,000.
The victim here claimed that he was riding his motorcycle at a moderate speed at the side of the road when the Opponent No. 2 hit the victim with his Santro car while driving in a rash and negligent manner. Consequently, the victim fell down and received grievous injuries.
The Tribunal had observed that there was a delay in filing the FIR of 27 days which was not satisfactorily explained. Further, the victim was admitted to the hospital on 29th of September while the accident occurred on 26th. Therefore, the claim petition was rejected.
In appeal, the claimant averred that the Tribunal had committed a gross error in rejecting the claim petition even though sufficient evidence was attached regarding the involvement of the vehicle of Opponent No. 2. Further, it was submitted that the Tribunal had found that there were two eye-witnesses and the reason for delay in filing complaint was because the witnesses were not ready to come forward.
It was also contested that the judgement of the criminal courts were not binding or relevant on civil cases and hence, the Tribunal should not have disbelieved the victim because of the delay in filing the FIR. The Tribunal was also said to have disregarded the opinion of the Supreme Court in Ravi v. Badrinaryan (2011) 4 SCC 693, where it was held that delay in lodging FIR should not be treated as fatal for motor accident claim cases, if claimant has been able to demonstrate satisfactory and cogent reasons for it. There could be variety of reasons in genuine cases for delayed lodgment of FIR.
In the instant case, it was claimed that the victim was sub-conscious in the hospital and only filed the FIR post his recovery. Reliance was placed on Anita Sharma and Ors. vs. New India Assurance Company Ltd. and Anr. (2021) 1 SCC 171, Vimla Devi vs. The National Insurance Company and other precedents Vimla Devi vs. The National Insurance Company for the issue of burden of proof in case of accident claim cases. The victim had given his statement before the police station in a fragile state but could not recount the registration number of the Santro car.
Per contra, the Insurance company submitted that there was delay in the lodging of the FIR as well as the statements of the eye-witnesses were inconsistent.
Justice Sandeep Bhatt's foremost observation was that there was clear justification in filing a delayed FIR due to the treatment of the victim. Further, 'merely' one eye witness had stated that he had given his deposition by signing the document without reading and he was not aware of the care which had caused the accident. Per the Anita Sharma judgement of the Supreme Court, this was not a 'fatal' point while discussing the burden of proof.
The High Court observed that though there is some inconsistency in the documentary evidence as well as oral evidence produced on the record, but in the compensation cases the Court cannot take "strict view" when the charge-sheet is also filed against the driver of the offending vehicle though, the complaint is admittedly filed after 27 days.
"If we look at the F.I.R itself, the complainant has tried to justify the delay in filing of F.I.R by stating that he has given some statement before the Gandhigram Police Station when they have admitted his brother to Virani Wockhardt Hospital. But since he was admitted in I.C.U. and his treatment was going on, therefore, there is justification of the circumstances for lodging late F.I.R.
Involvement of vehicle also comes out from the F.I.R. itself where the No. of Santro car is specifically given by the complainant. It is admitted position that the claimant has received serious injuries due to the accident...Merely one of the witnesses has said that he has given the deposition by signing the document without reading and he was not much aware about which car has caused the accident, is not that much fatal."
Thus, the High Court concluded that the Tribunal had committed error in not considering the evidence available in 'strict manner.' Therefore, the matter was remanded back to the Tribunal for fresh consideration while granting the parties an adequate opportunity to adduce further evidence.
Case Title: Hardasbhai Raymalbhai Gohil vs Sanjaybhai Arvindbhai Jabuani
Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Guj) 178