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Car accidents caused by Negligence

7 min read

By Khushi Agarwal

Introduction

According to National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB), total of around 25.7% of accidents occurred due to dangerous or careless driving or overtaking in 2019. It amounted to 42,557 deaths and 106,555 injuries.[1]

According to data released by the Road Ministry, deaths increase by around 33% in 2019 due to the use of mobile phone while driving as compared to 2018 which amounted to 4,945 deaths. Also, 1,797 deaths were caused due to jumping traffic lights and around 9,201 due to driving on wrong side.[2]

These all acts amount to Negligence on the part of drivers. The above data clearly shows the rising negligence among people while driving.

There is not even a single day in which we do not hear cases of motor vehicle accidents taking place and most of them are just due to the negligence of drivers.

It is very common to see people driving and side by side using their mobile phones, doing the act of drunken driving, driving rashly and at excessively higher speed and so on. This all can be termed as negligent driving.

What is negligence?

Every person living in a society has some responsibilities and duties towards the society. He cannot do each and every thing as per his wish. Although our Indian constitution provides every citizen the right to life under Article 21, but that does not mean that you can do anything without thinking about other people living in the society.

Dr. Winfield has described negligence as a tort where there is a breach of duty to take care which result in damages. It was in the case of Jacob Mathew Vs. State of Punjab described as:

Negligence is the breach of a duty caused by the omission to do something which a reasonable man, guided by those considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs would do, or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would not do.

Actionable negligence consists in the neglect of the use of ordinary care or skill towards a person to whom the defendant owes the duty of observing ordinary care and skill, by which neglect, the plaintiff has suffered injury to his person or property[3].

Elements of negligence

There are three main essentials to constitute negligence. These three must be proved in order to make someone liable under negligence.

  • Duty of Care
  • Breach of that Duty
  • Damages suffered by Plaintiff

Therefore, every person has a duty towards other people which must not be breached. If that duty is breached and the Plaintiff suffered damages due to that breach, then Plaintiff can successfully sue the Defendant under Negligence.

Rash and negligent driving

What if a person driving a car at a high speed injures a pedestrian, can the person be held liable under negligence?

Yes, if a person driving a car hits a pedestrian due to his negligent act, he can brought an action against him for Negligence.

As discussed above that every person holds a duty of care towards other citizens, in the same manner, people driving on the roads also holds a duty of care towards all the people present on the roads, be it a pedestrian of any other motor vehicle.

Suppose a person is driving at an excessively higher speed on a wrong side. It can be very well seen that he can cause injury to anyone.

Therefore, if he hits someone resulting in damages, it can be clearly established as the case of rash and negligent driving.

There are certain rules of driving which are made for the safety of citizens. A person must drive in a manner that his acts does not cause any injury to other people. If the person fails to meet that duty of care, then he can be made liable for negligence.

Provisions under Indian Penal code

Section 279 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 states, “Whoever drives any vehicle, or rides, on any public way in a manner so rash or negligent as to endanger human life, or to be likely to cause hurt or injury to any other person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both”.

Anyone who because of his rash and negligent driving, endangers a human life, can be sued under Section 279 of the Indian Penal Code. He can be punished for six months imprisonment or for fine which can be up to one thousand or with both.

A person can also be held liable under Section 304A of the Indian Penal Code. This Section states, “Whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both”.

If death is caused due to someone’s rash and negligent act, he can also be sued under this act, resulting in imprisonment up to two years or fine or both.

In Ishwar Devi Vs. Union of India[4] case, the conductor and driver of the bus were held liable for rash and negligent act. In this case when the deceased placed his foot on the foot-board of the bus and had not yet gone in, the conductor in a very hasty manner rang the bell and the driver started the bus.

All this was done in an attempt to overtake another bus as a result of which the deceased got squeezed or sandwiched between the two buses and sustained serious injuries and died.

Other acts that can amount to negligence

Negligence of the part of driver is not just restricted to driving at high speed. There are other acts also which can also be said to be negligence on the part of driver. Few examples are:

  • Not stopping at the red light;
  • Not wearing seat belts;
  • Driving at a wrong side;
  • Driving while calling;
  • Drunken driving;
  • Not stopping for a pedestrian, etc.

All these acts can also be termed as negligent behavior on driver’s part and can be punished under different acts such as Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.

Vicarious liability in case of motor accidents

Mr. B was hired as a driver by Mr. A. During his working hours, he due to his negligence hit a pedestrian on the road. Who will be held liable for negligence in this case? Will it be a driver or Mr. A, who is the owner of the vehicle?

A person can be held liable for the acts of another person although he himself did nothing wrong. This is due to the principle of vicarious liability. According to this, master is made liable for the acts of his servant which works on the principle of “respondeat superior”.

Also, according to Section 140(1), if the accident resulted in death or permanent disablement of the victim, the owner of the vehicle can be held liable to pay compensation for that death or permanent disablement

If a servant is driving a car and hits someone due to his negligence, his master can be held liable only on the condition that:

  • The person who hit, must be the servant.
  • Servant must be acting within the scope of his employment.

If these two conditions are fulfilled, then the master can be successfully held liable for the negligence of his servant.

In the case of Maimuna Begum Vs. Taju[5], a petition was filed against Taju Ahmed Khan who was driving a truck during the regular course of employment owned by Shriram. On the day accident took place, Taju had given lift to Abdul Razzaque. Taju lost the control over the truck due to his negligent driving and as a result truck dashed against the railing of the bridge.

The owner, Shriram was not held vicariously liable. The tribunal gave the justification that although Taju was driving the truck in the regular course of his employment but giving lift to others was out of his scope of employment.

Therefore, second condition, that is, servant must be acting within the scope of his employment was not fulfilled and hence, the principle of vicarious liability was not applied.

Compensation in case of road accidents

What are the remedies available to the victims who suffered due to the wrongful acts of another person? Motor Vehicle Act, 1988 provides such remedies to the victims.

According to Section 165 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, the victim can claim compensation from the claim’s tribunal only if the following conditions are satisfied:

  • The accident resulted in death or any bodily injury.
  • Accident resulted in loss of any property.
  • Accident arose due to the use of motor vehicle.

Only if these conditions are satisfied, a person can claim compensation. Chapter X of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, provides for compensation.

In case, accident due to motor vehicle resulted in death or permanent disablement, victim will get a sum of fifty thousand rupees in case of death and twenty-five thousand rupees in case of permanent disablement, as per Section 140(2).

Supreme court in case of National Insurance Company Limited Vs. Pranay Sethi[6], established some guidelines for the victims who are self-employed or have their fixed salary.

Also, the concept of just compensation is taken into consideration while deciding the amount of compensation. According to it, what will determine the amount which is reasonable and fair.

Conclusion

Every day with so many cases of negligent behavior, claims tribunals are working to provide justice to the victims. But the need is to put curb on this negligent behavior.

Although compensation will be provided to the victims and offenders will be punished, but people who lose their lives due to others negligence could be given back their lives.

Driving rashly and at a high speed, calling while driving, driving after drinking, are all negligent acts and will only cause losses instead of giving some benefit. We live in a society and therefore, have a duty of care towards people which we should never breach.

Reference:

  1. 1.54 Lakh people killed in road in road crashes in India in 2019, over-speeding reason in 60% cases: Data available at: economictimes.com
  2. Dipak K Dash, “Deaths from crashes due to mobile use while driving rose 33% in 2019” available at: timesofindia.indiatimes.com
  3. Jacob Mathew Vs. State of Punjab 2005 AIR SC 3180
  4. Ishwar Devi Vs. Union of India 1969 AIR Del 183
  5. Maimuna Begum Vs. Taju 1989 (1) BomCR 673
  6. National Insurance Company Limited Vs. Pranay Sethi 2017 (4) KLT 662 SC