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Liability Of Insurer Invited Due To "Involvement" Of Vehicle In Accident, Not Negligence Of Driver Per Se: Punjab & Haryana High Court

Zeb Hasan
3 May 2022 5:32 AM GMT
Liability Of Insurer Invited Due To Involvement Of Vehicle In Accident, Not Negligence Of Driver Per Se: Punjab & Haryana High Court
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The Punjab and Haryana High Court recently while dealing with a matter related to compensation in a motor accident act claim observed that negligence of the driver is not, per se, the reason for inviting liability by such a vehicle. The observation came from Justice Rajbir Sehrawat, who observed that it is the 'use of vehicle' on the road, which per se, invites liability for the owner...

The Punjab and Haryana High Court recently while dealing with a matter related to compensation in a motor accident act claim observed that negligence of the driver is not, per se, the reason for inviting liability by such a vehicle.

The observation came from Justice Rajbir Sehrawat, who observed that it is the 'use of vehicle' on the road, which per se, invites liability for the owner of the vehicle; and thus it is for the insurer; to pay compensation; in case the vehicle is involved in accident:

"Under section 165 the Tribunals are required to be constituted for adjudication of claims of compensation arising from the 'use of a vehicle' and not necessarily arising from the negligence of driver of such vehicle. Section 166 also enables filing of claims in case of accidents covered by section 165, i.e., not necessarily arising from the negligence of the driver of the vehicle. Therefore it is the 'use of vehicle' on the road, which per se, invites liability for the owner of the vehicle; and thus for the insurer; to pay compensation; in case the vehicle is involved in accident. Negligence of the driver is not, per se, the reason for inviting liability by such a vehicle. Hence it is strict liability attached to the vehicle as such."

It noted that legislature in India has intentionally avoided adopting the 'negligence' per se; as a determinant to fix the locus of liability. The legislature has not even used the word 'negligence' in the chapters XI and XII of the Motor Vehicle Act, which make provisions relating to the compensation.

The Court was dealing with five appeals filed by the Insurance company and cross objections filed by the claimants in a matter related to compensation in Motor Vehicle Act. The facts giving rise to the appeals are: that on 6 February, 2014 a family was going to Amritsar from Delhi in a Innova car. When they reached in the area between Pipli and Shahbad on the national highway, the truck/tanker which was going ahead of the Innova car, suddenly applied breaks.

As a result, accident took place. In that accident the occupants of the Innova car received serious injuries. Four people died of injuries. The Surviving legal representatives filed an FIR. In the above said gamut of facts, four claim petitions were filed by the legal representatives of the deceased and the 5th was filed by the injured himself for the injuries sustained by him in the accident.

Notice was issued to insurance companies of both vehicles. The claimants examined the injured eye witness besides other relevant witnesses. The driving licence of the driver of Innova car - Amarjeet Singh was also produced in evidence. However, no evidence was led by either the driver and owner of the offending tanker or by the respondent Insurance company.

Tribunal awarded compensation to all claimants. However, the respondent Insurance company, the Insurer of the tanker, was absolved by the Tribunal on the ground that the driver of the Innova car was required to maintain a safe distance, in which he failed. Therefore, the owner of the Innova car, and consequently, the appellant Insurance company, the insurer of the said Innova car, was held liable to make the payment.

Challenging the said award, the appeals were filed by the Insurance company of the Innova car.

Petitioner argued that the Tribunal went wrong in law in absolving the respondent Insurance company. The evidence led on the file categorically proves that it was the driver of the offending tanker who was negligent in driving the same. It was acclaimed that the eye witness has duly been examined to prove the assertions of the claimants. It was further said that the Tribunal has totally ignored the version of the eye witness and has proceeded only on assumption that there was no safe distance maintained by the driver of the Innova car. This is despite the fact that there is no evidence led on the file by the respondents even to show the fact that the driver of the Innova car was not maintaining safe distance.

Lastly, it was argued that the liability of the appellant Insurance company was not even in issue as per the issues framed by the Tribunal. The respondent Insurance Company of the tanker has never claimed the liability to be of the appellant Insurance company; as such. Hence, the award passed by the Tribunal deserves to be set aside. The liability of the entire amount deserves to be imposed upon the respondent Insurance company, the insurer of the offending tanker.

Respondent argued that as per the Regulation 23 of the Rules of the Road Regulations, 1989 (in short 'the Regulations of 1989'), the driver of the Innova car was required to maintain a 'safe distance'. The Counsel for respondent argued that it was his sole liability to ensure that he maintains the sufficient distance so as to enable him to apply breaks and to stop his car; in case the tanker in front of him applied sudden breaks. Further he argued that the extent of the damage to the car shows that it was being driven at a high speed and without taking due care of the fact that the tanker was going in front of it.

The Court noted that as per Section 164, the factors which the claimant is exempted from pleading and proving in claims made under 'no fault liability', and which, conversely, the claimants shall be required to plead and prove in case he opts to claim higher amounts under 'fault liability' are :

That the death or permanent disablement in respect of which the claim has been made was due to

(a) any wrongful act,

(b) neglect or

(c) default

Court said that none of the above factors is inherently connected with the negligence on the part of the driver of the vehicle. Though negligence of the driver may become relevant in some cases when the driver; as the statutory 'any other person' does any wrongful act or neglects to do something expected of him as a reasonable man, however, the accident could be result of the wrongful act of the owner as well; even when he is not the driver.

Further the court said that the liability of the owner and thus of the insurer; arises from 'use of the vehicle' and default thereof, not necessarily from the negligence of the driver of the vehicle, therefore, the claimant claiming under 'fault liability' as well; is not required to prove the negligence of the driver of the vehicle. He would be required to prove only the default of the vehicle in behaving in a manner as was expected of that vehicle. Therefore, court observed that even the legal representatives of such driver cannot be denied compensation only because the accident could have been avoided by such a driver, unless such driver is the owner himself.

Coming to the point of liability in the present matter, the court said that the testimony of the eye witness clearly states that the offending tanker was being driven in a rash and negligent manner and in violation of the rules of the road and that the claimants have succeeded in proving that it was the negligence of the driver of the tanker which resulted in the accident.

With regard to the argument on safe distance by the respondent company, the court said that it finds no merit in it. It was said that there is no doubt, the Regulation 23 prescribes that the vehicle following should maintain the safe distance, however, the same is a rule of road advised to be observed by drivers when driving on the roads; and same can hardly be made a criteria for assessing the compensation or determining the locus of liability, as such.

Coming to liability the court said that in the present case, the claimants have lead sufficient evidence to show that there was much negligence and default on the part of the offending vehicle and there is no evidence of the negligence or lacks of 'due care' on the part of the driver of the Innova car, but his vehicle has also defaulted to some extent. Therefore, court was of the view that its insurer has also to share some responsibility.

"Accordingly, the respondent Insurance company is held liable for 70%, whereas the appellant Insurance company is left with 30% of the liability to reimburse to the claimants." Court said.

In view of the above, the appeals were disposed of.

Case Title: Tata AIG General Insurance Company Limited Vs. Surjeet Kaur and others, with connected matters

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (PH) 92

Click Here To Read/Download Order


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