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Supreme Court sets aside Rajasthan HC order overturning accident claims award, enhances it

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The Supreme Court has reiterated 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. 

A division bench of Justice Surya Kant and Justice Aniruddha Bose pronounced its verdict on the appeal filed seeking enhancement of compensation and challenging the High Court’s order which had denied enhancement in compensation to the family member of the deceased and more so even set aside the Tribunals order which had granted compensation of more than Rs 16 lakh.  

The High Court had set aside the Tribunal’s award and dismissed the claim petition for the reasons that first, Ritesh Pandey (AW­3) (eye-witness) had failed to report the accident to the jurisdictional police. 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 the 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.

The Supreme Court has said that if the driver of a car, is a part of a motor accident sets up a defence plea that the accident was a result of not his but the other vehicle’s carelessness or rashness, then the onus is on him to step into the witness box and explain as to how the accident had taken place. The Court added that the fact that the owner-cum-driver chooses not to depose in support of what he has pleaded in his written statement, would suggest that he was himself at fault.

In the present case, after the deceased passed away due to a motor vehicle accident, a demand for compensation was made by his dependants. The Tribunal had allowed the Claim Petition with compensation of Rs 16,08,000 and assigned liability for the accident on the respondents by relying upon the statement of an eye­witness Ritesh Pandey, who stated that the driver Sanjeev Kapoor was driving the car at a very fast speed when it overtook a vehicle and collided head­ on against the oncoming truck. The High Court set aside the Tribunal’s award and dismissed the claim petition stating that the eye-witness Ritesh Pandey had failed to report the accident to the jurisdictional police and was apparently introduced by the claimants only to seek compensation. The High Court added that 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.

The questions to be determined by the Apex Court were whether the accident was caused due to rash and negligent driving of Sanjeev Kapoor and whether Ritesh Pandey is a reliable witness or not.

The Apex Court has set aside the judgment of the High Court holding the appellants entitled to compensation as awarded by the Tribunal, besides 40% addition in the annual income of the deceased towards “future prospects” and the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal, Sikar (Rajasthan) has been directed to re-calculate the compensation amount accordingly. The appellants have also been held entitled to interest @ 8.5%, as per the Tribunal’s award, on the entire amount of compensation asking the Tribunal to re­calculate the compensation within one month and the insurance company to deposit the same within one month thereafter.

The Apex Court has noted the observation of the High Court that the author of the FIR, the owner-cum driver had not been examined as a witness, and hence adverse inference needs to be drawn against the appellants, is wholly misconceived and misdirected. The owner-­cum-­driver is not the author of the FIR, but instead, he 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, should not have shifted the burden of proof.

Also Read: Delhi High Court refuses to consider plea seeking scrapping of tax on interest of road accident solatium

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