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Standard Of Proof In Motor Accident Claim Cases Is One Of Preponderance Of Probabilities, Reiterates Supreme Court

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
9 Dec 2020 4:07 AM GMT
Standard Of Proof In Motor Accident Claim Cases Is One Of Preponderance Of Probabilities, Reiterates Supreme Court
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The Supreme court has observed that the standard of proof in Motor Accident Claim Cases is one of preponderance of probabilities, rather than beyond reasonable doubt. One needs to be mindful that the approach and role of Courts while examining evidence in accident claim cases ought not to be to find fault with non­-examination of some best eye­witnesses, as may happen in...

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The Supreme court has observed that the standard of proof in Motor Accident Claim Cases is one of preponderance of probabilities, rather than beyond reasonable doubt.

One needs to be mindful that the approach and role of Courts while examining evidence in accident claim cases ought not to be to find fault with non­-examination of some best eye­witnesses, as may happen in a criminal trial; but, instead should be only to analyze the material placed on record by the parties to ascertain whether the claimant's version is more likely than not true, the bench comprising Justices Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose observed. The bench observed thus while allowing an appeal against Rajasthan High Court judgment which had rejected the claim petition (by setting aside the Tribunal order allowing it). 

"We are concerned over the failure of the High Court to be cognizant of the fact that strict principles of evidence and standards of proof like in a criminal trial are inapplicable in MACT claim cases. The standard of proof in such like matters is one of preponderance of probabilities, rather than beyond reasonable doubt. One needs to be mindful that the approach and role of Courts while examining evidence in accident claim cases ought not to be to find fault with non­-examination of some best eye­witnesses, as may happen in a criminal trial; but, instead should be only to analyze the material placed on record by the parties to ascertain whether the claimant's version is more likely than not true.", the court observed while allowing the appeal.

In this case, one Sandeep Sharma was travelling in a car owned by one Sanjeev Kapoor which collided with a Truck resulting in former's death. Sharma's dependents filed a claim petition contending that the accident occurred due to the rash and negligent driving of Sanjeev Kapoor.  The Tribunal, to allow the claim, relied upon the statement of one eye­witness Ritesh Pandey (AW­3), according to whom Sanjeev Kapoor was driving the car at a very fast speed when it overtook a vehicle and collided head­on against the oncoming truck. In appeal, the High court set aside the Tribunal's award and dismissed the claim petition for the reasons that first, Ritesh Pandey (AW­3) had failed to report the accident to the jurisdictional police and he was apparently introduced by the claimants only to seek compensation. Second, the FIR had been lodged by the owner ­cum driver, Sanjeev Kapoor, who would not have done so had he been at fault or driving rashly. Third, the assertion of Ritesh Pandey (AW­3) that he took the injured to hospital was not proved from the record of the Government Hospital, Ghazipur which revealed that Sandeep Sharma was brought to the hospital by Sub ­Inspector Sah Mohammed.

Taking note of the evidence on record, the bench observed that the failure of the respondents to cross examine the solitary eyewitness or confront him with their version, despite adequate opportunity, must lead to an inference of tacit admission on their part. While allowing appeal, the bench observed:

The observation of the High Court that the author of the FIR (as per its judgment, the owner ­cum­ driver) had not been examined as a witness, and hence adverse inference ought to be drawn against the appellant­ claimants, is wholly misconceived and misdirected. Not only is the owner­ cum ­driver not the author of the FIR, but instead he is one of the contesting respondents in the Claim Petition who, along with insurance company, is an interested party with a pecuniary stake in the result of the case. If the owner ­cum ­driver of the car were setting up a defence plea that the accident was a result of not his but the truck driver's carelessness or rashness, then the onus was on him to step into the witness box and explain as to how the accident had taken place. The fact that Sanjeev Kapoor chose not to depose in support of what he has pleaded in his written statement, further suggests that he was himself at fault. The High Court, therefore, ought not to have shifted the burden of proof.

Case: Anita Sharma vs. New India Assurance Co. Ltd. [CIVIL APPEAL NOS. 4010­4011 of 2020] 
Coram: Justices Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose

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