Friday, March 31, 2023

Supreme Court requests Law Ministry to set up Motor Vehicle Appellate Tribunals to bring down compensation cases before High Courts

The appeal is directed against the order dated March 07, 2018 passed by the High Court of Orissa at Cuttack, whereby the High Court has reduced the compensation payable to the appellants/claimants from Rs.22,60,000/- to Rs 17,00,000/-. 

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The Supreme Court has on Wednesday directed for the establishment of Motor Vehicles Appellate Tribunals for disposal of cases related to payment of compensation to the victims of road accidents. The Court said it was doing this due to the large number of appeals pending before the High Court filed under the Motor Vehicles Act over compensation.

The Division Bench of Justice S. Abdul Nazeer and Justice Krishna Murari passed this order while hearing a Civil Appeal filed by Rasmita Biswal & others. The appeal is directed against the order dated March 7, 2018 passed by the High Court of Orissa at Cuttack, whereby the High Court has reduced the compensation payable to the appellants/claimants from Rs 22,60,000 to Rs 17,00,000. 

The first appellant is the wife of one Manoj Kumar Biswal and the second and third appellants are their minor sons. Manoj Kumar Biswal died in a motor vehicle accident which occurred on May 9, 2013. 

The Supreme Court noted that a large number of claim petitions, under the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 are being filed before the various Claims Tribunals established thereunder throughout the country. Against the awards of the Tribunals, appeals are filed under Section 173 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 before the relevant High Court, either by the claimants or by the insurers and owners of the offending vehicles.

“Large number of such appeals are pending before the various High Courts. Having regard to the above, we are of the view that in order to curtail the pendency before the High Courts and for speedy disposal of the appeals concerning payment of compensation to the victims of road accident, it would be just and proper to consider constituting Motor Vehicle Appellate Tribunals by amending Section 173 of the Motor Vehicles Act so that the appeals challenging the award of a Tribunal could be filed before the Appellate Tribunal so constituted.” 

“The various Benches of such an Appellate Tribunal could consist of two Senior District Judges. To ensure access to justice and to avoid pendency, it is also proper to consider setting up Benches of the Appellate Tribunal in various regional cities, in addition to the capital city of each State as may be indicated by the relevant High Court. For this purpose, appropriate rules governing the procedure of the Appellate Tribunal may also be framed. No further appeal against the order of the Appellate Tribunal need be provided. If any of the party is aggrieved by the order of the Appellate Tribunal, he can always invoke the writ jurisdiction of the concerned High Court for appropriate reliefs. Department of Justice, Ministry of Law and Justice, is requested to examine the matter,”

-the order reads.

The appellants filed claim petition before the Additional District Judge-cum- Motor Accident Claims Tribunal, Talcher District, seeking compensation on account of the death of Manoj Kumar Biswal. The owner of the truck filed his written statement denying any negligence on the part of the driver of the truck. The Respondent is the insurer who also filed the written statement opposing the claim petition. 

The Tribunal, on appreciation of the materials on record, held that the cause for the accident was the rash and negligent driving by the truck driver. The Tribunal awarded a total compensation of Rs 12,90,064 along with interest at the rate of 6% per annum. 

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The claimants as well as the insurer challenged the award of the Tribunal before the High Court. The High Court set aside the award and remitted the matter back to the Tribunal for fresh disposal. The Tribunal once again considered the matter and awarded a total compensation of Rs 22,60,000. The insurer then challenged the award of the Tribunal before the High Court by filing an appeal. 

In that appeal, the High Court has modified the award of the Tribunal and awarded compensation of Rs 17,00,000 with interest at the rate of 7.5% per year from the date of claim petition till the date of realization. 

The counsel for the appellant contended that the High Court was not justified in reducing the compensation without assigning any reason. It is contended that the appellant was earning Rs 15,000 and was aged about 28 years at the time of his death. The Courts below have taken his age as 33 years and has applied multiplier 16 instead of 15. 

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It is further argued that the deceased had a permanent job. The Courts below have not awarded any compensation towards loss of future prospects. Even the compensation awarded under the conventional heads is not in accordance with the judgment of this Court in National Insurance Company Limited v. Pranay Sethi and Others. 

The Court said that the finding of the Tribunal and that of the High Court with regard to the cause of the accident and the liability of the insurer to pay compensation is not disputed. Therefore, the only question for consideration is whether compensation awarded by the High Court is adequate. 

The Court observed that the deceased was working as supervisor under one Kusha Samal, proprietor of M/s Divine Construction. Certificate issued by Kusha Samal shows that the deceased was a supervisor in the organisation and his salary was Rs 15,000 per month. In his evidence, Kusha Samal has also stated that the deceased was paid salary of Rs 15,000 per month. The first appellant, the wife of the deceased, was examined.

She has stated that the income of the deceased at the time of his death was Rs 15,000 per month. Taking into account the evidence on record, the Tribunal has assessed his income at Rs 15,000. We do not find any error with the assessment of the salary as such by the Tribunal, the Court said. 

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The Court noted that the appellants claim that the deceased was aged 28 years at the of his death, no documents have been produced in support of the said contention. On the contrary, PAN card of the deceased shows that he was aged 33 years at the time of his death. Even the post-mortem report of the deceased suggests the same. Therefore, the Tribunal held that the deceased was aged 33 years and multiplier 16 was applied. 

After deducting 1/4 of the income towards the personal expenses of the deceased, the Tribunal awarded a total compensation of Rs 21,60,000 towards loss of dependency and a sum of Rs 1,00,000 under other conventional heads. Thus, a total sum of Rs 22,60,000 was awarded by the Tribunal. 

The Court held, 

“Section 173 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 provides for filing of an appeal against the award passed by the Claims Tribunal. It is settled law that an appeal is continuation of the proceedings of the original Court/Tribunal. An appeal is a valuable right of the appellant and at the stage of an appeal, all questions of fact and law decided by the Tribunal are open for the reconsideration. Therefore, the appellate court is required to address all the questions before it and decide the case by giving reasons.”

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