N. K. V. Bros (P) Ltd. V.s M. Karumai
Ammal & Ors  INSC 49 (21 March 1980)
CITATION: 1980 AIR 1354 1980 SCR (3) 101 1980
SCC (3) 457
CITATOR INFO :
RF 1991 SC1769 (6)
Motor Vehicles Act-Driver of bus acquitted
for rash and negligent driving- Civil suit if must also be dismissed.
Indian Penal Code-Section 304A-Requirement of
culpable rashness more drastic than negligence sufficient under the law of tort
to create liability.
The petitioner's bus driven by a driver hit
an over- hanging high tension wire resulting in the death of some passengers
and loss of limb to several others. The driver was acquitted on the ground that
the tragedy was an act of God. The Accidents Tribunal held that despite the
screams of the passenger about the dangerous over-hanging wire ahead the rash
driver sped towards the spot which resulted in the accident. The High Court
affirmed the finding of the Tribunal that the accident had taken place due to
rashness and negligence of the driver and consequently the petitioner was
vicariously liable to pay compensation to the claimant.
Dismissing the petition,
HELD: 1. The plea that the criminal case had
ended in acquittal and that therefore the civil suit must follow suit was
rightly rejected by the Tribunal and the High Court.
2. The requirement of culpable rashness under
section 304A I.P.C. is more drastic than negligence sufficient under the law of
tort to create liability. [102 E] The Accident Tribunal must take special care
to see that innocent victims do not suffer and drivers and owners do not escape
liability merely because of some doubt here or some obscurity there. Save in
plain cases, culpability must be inferred from the circumstances where it is
fairly reasonable. The court should not succumb to niceties and technicalities.
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Special Leave
Petition Nos. 937-939 of 1980.
From the Judgment and Order dated 1-8-1979 of
the Madras High Court in A.A.O. Nos. 815-817 of 1977.
T. A. Ramachandran and K. Ramkumar for the
The Order of the Court was delivered by
KRISHNA IYER, J.-Sri Ramachandran, ably assisted by Sri K. Ram Kumar, presented
the case of the petitioner for special leave, as persuasively as the facts
permit but while we were impressed with the 102 industry and advocacy of
counsel, we heartily dismiss this petition. Why heartily? Because the High
Court, if at all, has erred in favour of the petitioner, not against him.
The Facts: A stage carriage belonging to the
petitioner was on a trip when, after nightfall, the bus hit an over- hanging
high tension wire resulting in 26 casualties of which 8 proved instantaneously
fatal. A criminal case ensued but the accused-driver was acquitted on the score
that the tragedy that happened was an act of God! The Accidents Claims
Tribunal, which tried the claims for compensation under the Motor Vehicles Act,
came to the conclusion, affirmed by the High Court, that, despite the screams
of the passengers about the dangerous over-hanging wire ahead, the rash driver
sped towards the lethal spot. Some lost their lives instantly; several lost
their limbs likewise. The High Court, after examining the materials, concluded:
"We therefore sustain the finding of the
Tribunal that the accident had taken place due to the rashness and negligence
of R.W. 1 (driver) and consequently the appellant is vicariously liable to pay
compensation to the claimant." The plea that the criminal case had ended
in acquittal and that, therefore, the civil suit must follow suit, was rejected
and rightly. The requirement of culpable rashness under section 304A I.P.C. is
more drastic than negligence sufficient under the law of tort to create
liability. The quantum of compensation was moderately fixed and although there
was, perhaps a case for enhancement, the High Court dismissed the cross-claims
also. Being questions of fact, we are obviously unwilling to re-open the
holdings on culpability and compensation.
Road accidents are one of the top killers in
our country, especially when truck and bus drivers operate nocturnally. This
proverbial recklessness often persuades the courts, as has been observed by us
earlier in other cases, to draw an initial presumption in several cases based
on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. Accidents Tribunals must take special
care to see that innocent victims do not suffer and drivers and owners do not
escape liability merely because of some doubt here or some obscurity there.
Save in plain cases, culpability must be inferred from the circumstances where
it is fairly reasonable. The court should not succumb to niceties,
technicalities and mystic maybes. We are emphasising this aspect because we are
often distressed by transport operators getting away with it thanks to judicial
laxity, despite the fact that they do not exercise sufficient disciplinary
control over the drivers in the matter of careful driving. The heavy economic
103 impact of culpable driving of public transport must bring owner and driver
to their responsibility to their 'neighbour'. Indeed, the State must seriously
consider no- fault liability by legislation. A second aspect which pains us is
the inadequacy of the compensation or undue parsimony practised by tribunals.
We must remember that judicial tribunals are State organs and Article 41 of the
Constitution lays the jurisprudential foundation for state relief against
accidental disablement of citizens. There is no justification for niggardliness
in compensation. A third factor which is harrowing is the enormous delay in
disposal of accident cases resulting in compensation, even if awarded, being
postponed by several years. The States must appoint sufficient number of
tribunals and the High Courts should insist upon quick disposals so that the
trauma and tragedy already sustained may not be magnified by the injustice of
delayed justice. Many States are unjustly indifferent in this regard.
We have been taken through a few intricate
legal submissions by counsel but we decline to interfere under Article 136 of
the Constitution especially where human misery is pitted against operational
P.B.R. Petition dismissed.