The concept of ‘self-inflicted injury’ would require an intention to inflict such injury and not mere negligence of any particular degree, the bench held.
The Supreme Court, in an important judgment delivered on Wednesday (Union of India vs. Rina Devi), observed that death or injury in the course of boarding or de-boarding a train will be an ‘untoward incident’ entitling a victim to the compensation and the same cannot be denied on the plea of contributory negligence of the victim.
A bench of Justice AK Goel and Justice RF Nariman resolved the conflicting views in the matter of quantum of compensation, definition of passenger and strict liability in Railway Accident Claims. It held as follows:
The court was considering an appeal filed by Union of India against the award of compensation of Rs.4 lakhs under Section 124A of the Railways Act, 1989, to a widow of a man who fell down from the train due to rush of passengers and died on the spot.
During the course of hearing, the bench was told that the Union of India was interested only in laying down of law on the subject even if the impugned judgment was not disturbed. As the court, decided to consider only the legal issues, Registrar Principal Bench, Railway Claims Tribunal seeking clarification on four subjects which repeatedly arise before it. The bench then proceeded to consider these issues:
Self-inflicted injury is not mere negligence of any particular degree
The conflict in views expressed by the High Court is with regard to the proviso to Section 124A to the effect that no compensation is payable if a passenger dies or suffers injury due to the following:
Some high courts have held that that injury or death because of negligence of the victim was at par with self inflicted injury. The court took note of a judgment of the Bombay High Court which have held in a case where a hawker died in the course of boarding a train, that he was not entitled to compensation as it was a case of ‘self-inflicted injury’.
The apex court, disapproving this view, said the concept of ‘self-inflicted injury’ would require intention to inflict such injury and not mere negligence of any particular degree. Doing so would amount to invoking the principle of contributory negligence which cannot be done in the case of liability based on ‘no fault theory’, the bench said.
Mere absence of ticket with such injured or deceased will not negative the claim that he was a bona fide passenger
Another conflict was with regard to the issue whether any person found dead near the track on Railway Precincts can be held to be a bona fide passenger for maintainability of a claim for compensation in absence of recovery of a ticket from his body.
On this aspect, the bench said: “Mere presence of a body on the Railway premises will not be conclusive to hold that injured or deceased was a bona fide passenger for which claim for compensation could be maintained. However, mere absence of ticket with such injured or deceased will not negative the claim that he was a bona fide passenger. Initial burden will be on the claimant which can be discharged by filing an affidavit of the relevant facts and burden will then shift on the Railways and the issue can be decided on the facts shown or the attending circumstances. This will have to be dealt with from case to case on the basis of facts found.”
The liability will accrue on the date of the accident
On the issue of compensation payable, the bench observed: “We are of the view that law in the present context should be taken to be that the liability will accrue on the date of the accident and the amount applicable as on that date will be the amount recoverable but the claimant will get interest from the date of accident till the payment at such rate as may be considered just and fair from time to time. In this context, the rate of interest applicable in motor accident claim cases can be held to be reasonable and fair.”
The court also said that compensation as applicable on the date of the accident has to be given with reasonable interest and to give effect to the mandate of beneficial legislation, if compensation, as provided on the date of award of the tribunal, is higher than unrevised amount with interest; the higher of the two amounts has to be given.
The court also held that in absence of any specific statutory provision, interest can be awarded from the date of accident itself when the liability of the Railways arises up to the date of payment, without any difference in the stages and that the legal position in this regard is at par with the cases of accident claims under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.