In an appeal from a motor accident claim, the Allahabad High Court recently underscored the importance of ensuring the claimant(s) received the compensation they were entitled to in the event of a dispute between the owner of the vehicle that caused the accident and the insurer.
To this end, the Bench of Justices Dr Kaushal Jayendra Thaker and Justice Ajit Singh emphasised that even the heirs of the claimant, once their status as heirs was established, would be entitled to claim compensation due to the original claimant.
Relying on Surpal Singh Ladhubha Gohil v Raliyatbahen Mohanbhai Savlia it was stated,
"The facts go to show that the claimant was under the constant treatment of doctors till the claimant survived therefore, it can safely be held that the accident caused lot of trauma both to the claimant as well his heirs. There is nexus between the death of the deceased and accidental injury. There is sufficient evidence to the effect that death of the deceased was due to development which took place due to resultant multiple injuries caused by the accident which would show that injuries were the root cause of the death. Therefore, heirs are entitled to compensation."
What transpired in the case
After the original claimant met with a motor accident in February 2005, he approached the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal in September. Summons was accordingly in 2007 issued to the owner of the vehicle (though this was subsequently disputed).
The Insurance Company filed one reply presented in 2009 denying liability after a request for an adjournment was made in 2008. In 2010, the Insurance Company was allowed to contest the proceedings. After this, the Tribunal passed an award in favour of the claimant. Since the owner did not present himself, the Tribunal concluded that the vehicle could not have neem insured on the date of the accident.
Thereafter, the claimant took out execution proceedings against the owner in 2011. Notice was issued and unresponded to. After two years, when the tribunal passed an attachment warrant against him, the owner presented himself and challenged the Tribunal's award as ex-parte. He filed an application under Order 9 Rule 13 of C.P.C., contending that he was never served with any summons/notice and came to know of the proceedings only later. His vehicle was insured with respondent no 2 (Insurance Company) who would be liable to satisfy the decree, he averred. The Tribunal thereafter stayed the award and no further steps were taken. The claimant died during the pendency of the proceedings and his heirs argued that his death resulted from the injuries sustained in the accident. The Award was then set aside on the ground of the original claimant's demise.
What the Court held
The High Court reasoned that the decree could have been set aside in part, with the dispute between the owner of the vehicle and the insurance company decided as between themselves. The claimants ought to have been allowed their rightful compensation, the Court concluded.
Therefore, the Court allowed the heirs of the claimant compensation of Rs 24 Lakhs along with interest amounting to 7.5% per annum from the date of the filing of the claim petition till the date of actual deposit.
Importantly, the Court said –
"The Tribunals in the State shall follow the direction of this Court as herein afore mentioned as far as disbursement is concerned, it should look into the condition of the litigant and the pendency of the matter… The same is to be applied looking to the facts of each case."
The Bench its gratitude for the assistance of the Counsel who appeared in the case.
"It can be safely culled out from the record that the main purpose for filing the application under Order 9 Rule 13 C.P.C. by the owner was to see that the liability is mulcted on the Insurance Company and not on them. The decree could have been set aside in part namely qua issue of liability as it was a award which could be set aside in part there was definitely severable decree"
The Court also narrated the facts of in Surpal Singh Ladhubha Gohil v Raliyatbahen Mohanbhai Savlia to demonstrate that heirs could be allowed the compensation that was due to the original claimants
"The death of original claimant during pendency of claim petition his legal heirs being brought on record and where the Tribunal held that claimants would not be entitled to compensation since they have no right to continue the proceedings on the death of original claimant, since action for personal injury abates with the death of original claimant. The question whether maxim "actio personalis moritur cum persona" namely that personal right of action abates with the death of the person, can be imported to a social welfare legislation so as to deny the benefits to legal heirs of a deceased claimant, to the advantage of a wrong doer the High Court held that strict application of maxim "actio personlis mortiur cum persona" cannot be imported to defeat the purpose and object of a social welfare legislation like Motor Vehicles Act. Once the status of claimants as legal heirs or legal representatives is conceded and acknowledged, to deny benefit of compensation to them on the ground that injury was personal to the claimant, it will be giving a premium to the wrong doer and it would defeat the very purpose and object of beneficial piece legislation. The question whether injury was personal or otherwise is of no significance so far as wrong doer is concerned and he is obliged to make good the loss sustained by injured, even after death of injured, claim petition does not abate and right to sue survives to his heirs and legal representatives."
The Court again held -
"In our case Order 9 Rule 13 C.P.C. could not have been made applicable by setting aside the entire decree instead partial modification 14 of decree even in execution could have been resorted to which would have served the purpose of all the litigating parties. Even if during the execution, proceedings it was brought to the notice of the executing court that the vehicle was insured, the liability could have been fastened on the contesting insurance company with whom the vehicle was insured."
Speaking of what would have been the outcome had the award not been set aside, the Bench said -
"In the event the decree would have been executed, of course, the claimants would have got the benefit of the decretal amount during the life-time of the original claimant who breathed his last in 2013. Had an illegal stay would not have been granted, what would have been the position. The Tribunal instead of granting stay could have directed the Insurance Company to verify the documents and deposited the amount as per the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 more particularly Section 169 read with Section 170 and further Section 174 of the Act. 33. It is settled position of law that the award of the Claims Tribunal shall be paid by owner or driver of the vehicle in the accident and they would be indemnified by insurer or by all or any of them, as the case may be."
The Bench therefore concluded that the Tribunal acted in a very casual manner by not deciding the matter for a period of five years namely 2013 till 2018. It said -
"The Tribunal committed a mistake rather irregularity by setting aside the award and decree in totality under Order 9 Rule 13 C.P.C. after the death of the original claimant without impleading the legal heirs. The Tribunal further committed an error which is apparent on the face of record by re-deciding the compensation. The only new circumstances were death of the injured claimant and production of documents so as to prove that the vehicle was insured and there was no breach of policy condition. 37. The awards passed by of the Claims Tribunal must be in conformity with the provisions of Section 166 read with Section 169 and 170 of the Act will also go to show that the Tribunal has erred in exercising power under Order 9 Rule 13 of C.P.C. The decisions impugned are not in conformity with the object of the Act. The findings are perverse and do not satisfy the legislative intent of the Act. The claimants were under the impression that the lis was between the owner and the Insurance Company and had the owner deposited the entire amount which he was supposed to, he could have recovered the same from the Insurance Company; if he had proved that there was no breach of policy condition. The primary duty to satisfy the decree is on the driver and owner of the offending vehicle. The only basis of challenge was that the owner had all the documents and therefore, it was the liability of the Insurance Company to indemnify as per the Act…. The provisions of part – II namely Sections 36 to 74 as well as Order 21 of C.P.C. relates to the payment of money under decree. The process for execution was also stayed without any order directing part compliance of the decree as required under the the provisions of Order 21 Rule 26 C.P.C and that the order staying the execution to the detrimental of the claimant could not have been passed 19 ex parte frustrating the very provision of the Code and Act."
Message to Tribunals in the State
The Bench directed Tribunals in the State to "follow the direction of this Court as herein afore mentioned as far as disbursement is concerned, it should look into the condition of the litigant and the pendency of the matter and not blindly apply the judgment of A.V. Padma). The same is to be applied looking to the facts of each case. A copy of this Judgment be circulated by the learned Registrar General to the Motor Accident Claims Tribunals in the State of Uttar Pradesh for guidance after seeking approval of the Hon'ble the Chief Justice".
CASE: (Deceased) Satish Chand Sharma And 3 Other v. Manoj And Another
COUNSEL: Advocates Abhishek, Umesh Kumar Singh for appellant, Advocate Nishant Mehrotra for Respondent