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Anita Sharma V New India Assurance Company

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Court: Supreme Court of India.

Case Type: Civil Appeal [Arising out of SLP (C) No.: 32011-32012 of 2018]

Case No.: 4010-4011 of 2020.

Date of Judgement: 08/12/2020.

Appellant: Anita Sharma & Ors.

Respondent: New India Assurance Co. Ltd. & Anr.

Bench: 

  • Justice Suryakant.
  • Justice Aniruddha Bose.

Statutes Referred:

  • Motor Vehicles Act 1988.

Cases Referred:

  • Parmeshwari v. Amir Chand.
  • Kartar Singh v. the State of Punjab.
  • Sunita v. Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation.
  • Dulcina Fernandes v. Joaquim Xavier Cruz.
  • National Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Pranay Sethi.

Facts:

  • The deceased Sandeep Sharma was a resident of the Sikar District in Rajasthan.
  • On 25/03/2009, Sandeep Sharma was travelling from Ghazipur to Varanasi in a car with the registration no. UP 65 AA 7100 along with his friend Sanjeev Kapoor (Respondent No. 2) and two other people.
  • Sanjeev Kapoor was the owner of the vehicle. He was driving the car when around 10:20 PM, near Atroli Village, a truck coming from the other side struck the vehicle.
  • All the occupants of the car suffered injuries. Sandeep Sharma and all the other occupants subsequently rushed to the District Hospital in Ghazipur at around 11:55 PM.
  • Considering the severity and multiplicity of his injuries, Sandeep Sharma was referred to the Institute of Medical Sciences and S.S. Hospital, BHU, Varanasi, on 26/03/2009.
  • Despite being discharged on 16/04/2009, Sandeep Sharma kept experiencing one medical complication after another. He remained hospitalized at Jain Hospital in Jaipur and later at Joshi Nursing Home in Sikar.
  • Sandeep Sharma eventually succumbed to his injuries on 10/12/2009.
  • The deceased was 34 years old at the time of his death and was survived by his widow, two minor children and his mother, all of whom were dependent on him.
  • The deceased was employed at Kelvin Ess Vee Textiles in Mumbai as a Sales Officer. He was an income tax assessee with an Employees Provident Fund (EPF) account.
  • On 26/08/2010, Sandeep’s dependents filed a claim for Rs. 60,94,000 (Sixty lakhs and ninety-four thousand). They claimed that Sandeep died because of the injuries suffered in the accident on 25/03/2009. The accident was caused by rash and negligent driving by the owner and driver of the car, Sanjeev Kapoor, in which Sandeep was travelling.
  • Sanjeev Kapoor and New India Assurance Co. Ltd., the car’s insurer, were impleaded as respondents.
  • Motor Accidents Claim Tribunal relied upon the testimony of eye-witness Ritesh Pandey, according to whom Sanjeev Kapoor was driving at a very high speed and collided head-on with the oncoming truck. Thus, the Tribunal assigned liability of claim on the respondents and partly allowed the claim petition with compensation of Rs.16,08,000 (Sixteen lakhs and eight thousand rupees).
  • The insurance company and the claimants both filed their appeals before the High Court of Rajasthan.
  • On 23/07/2018, the High Court set aside the Tribunal’s award and dismissed the claim petition.
  • The reasons by the High Court for rejecting the claim were:
  1. Ritesh Pandey failed to report the accident to the jurisdictional police. He was supposedly introduced by the claimants only to seek compensation.
  2. Sanjeev Kapoor, the owner-cum-driver of the vehicle, lodged the FIR. He would not have done so had he been driving rashly or had been at fault.
  3. The record from Government Hospital Ghazipur revealed that Sandeep Sharma was brought to the hospital by Sub-inspector Mohammed Sah. This went Ritesh Pandey’s assertion that he was the one who took the injured to the hospital.

Issues:

  • Did Sanjeev Kapoor’s rash and negligent driving cause the accident?
  • Was Ritesh Pandey a reliable witness?

Contentions by the Appellant:

  • The accident was caused because of rash and negligent driving by the owner-cum-driver of the car, Sanjeev Kapoor.

Contentions by the Respondent:

  • Contentions by New India Assurance Company
  • As the accident was caused by an unknown truck that hit the car, the claim petition filed against the owner of the car and the insurer of the car were contrary to law.
  • Contentions by Sanjeev Kapoor-
  • Sanjeev Kapoor did not take responsibility for the accident.
  • The truck that was coming from the opposite side was being driven in a rash manner.
  • The truck made a hurried getaway towards Ghazipur.
  • Since all four occupants of the car were injured, they could not note down the truck’s registration details.

Obiter Dicta:

  • Some relevant and important material facts had escaped the notice of the High Court.
  • Sanjeev Kapoor did not register the FIR. Instead, the FIR No.: 120/09 was registered based on the information given by Pradeep Kumar Aggarwal, son of Bal Krishan Das Aggarwal- a resident of the Varanasi District,
  • A part of the FIR indicated that Sanjeev Kapoor and the informant- Pradeep Kumar Aggarwal knew each other. The informant registered the report based on hearsay information and had not witnessed the accident himself.
  • There was nothing on the medical record that suggested that the police reached the accident site and carried the injured persons to the hospital. The FIR and Ritesh Pandey’s statements indicated that the wounded persons were brought to the hospital by private persons and not by the police. It is quite natural that the police also reached the Ghazipur Hospital. Therefore, it was mentioned on the medical record that Sandeep Sharma was brought to the hospital by SI Sah Mohammad.
  • Ritesh Pandey acted as a good Samaritan and a responsible citizen, and the High Court ought not to have disbelieved his testimony based on mere conjecture. The respondents’ failure to cross-examine the witness and to confront him with their version of the incident, despite adequate opportunity, suggested a tacit admission on their part.
  • The High Court’s observation that since the author of the FIR (Sanjeev Kapoor, according to their judgement) was not examined as a witness and therefore adverse inference must be drawn against the appellant claimant is completely misdirected and misconceived.
  • Since he claimed a defence stating that he was not responsible for the accident, the onus was on Sanjeev Kumar to step into the witness box and explain how the accident took place. However, Sanjeev Kumar chose not to depose.
  • The FIR was lodged two days after the accident on 27/03/2009.
  • The FIR was liable to be discarded for several reasons:
  1. Pradeep Kumar Aggarwal- the author of the FIR, did not witness the accident himself.
  2. There seems to be some sort of closeness between the author of the FIR and the owner-cum-driver of the car.
  3. The FIR seemed to be an attempt to absolve Sanjeev Kapoor of his liabilities.

Judgement:

  • The High Court’s judgement was set aside.
  • The appellants were entitled to the compensation awarded by the Motor Accidents Claim Tribunal (MACT).
  • The claimants were entitled to an additional 40% of the annual income of the deceased towards future prospects.
  • The appellants were entitled to an interest of 8.5% p.a. on the entire amount of the compensation.
  • The MACT was directed to recalculate the compensation accordingly within one month.
  • The insurance company was directed to deposit the compensation within one month after the Tribunal released the final, recalculated amount.

Rationale:

  • It is very common for common people to be hesitant about being involved in legal matters and not volunteer to become witnesses. Therefore, it is very likely that the names of Ritesh Pandey and other persons who accompanied the injured persons to the hospital were absent from the medical records.
  • Ritesh Pandey was neither related to the deceased or the deceased’s family. He belonged to a different state and lived in a faraway place.
  • Sanjeev Kapoor, the owner-cum-driver of the car, was not the author of the FIR. In fact, he was one of the respondents in the case and had a financial stake in the case’s outcome.

Conclusion:

  • The High Court should have been more cognizant and holistic in its approach while determining the validity of the case, facts and witnesses presented by the appellant-claimants. It should also have been more considerate about the efforts taken by appellant-claimants to put together the case.

Prepared by Mihir Poojary.