Report No. 85
1.2. Observations of Supreme Court.-
In one recent case1 of claim by a widow for compensation for the death of her husband who had been run over by a truck, the Supreme Court observed that the case had brought out all the defects in the present law under the Motor Vehicles Act:2-3
(1) The law as it stands today requires the claimant of compensation to prove that the driver of the vehicle was guilty of rash and negligent driving. This becomes impossible, as records of the police investigation are not made available to the Accident Claims Tribunal and officers who investigate the accident are seldom available to give evidence.
(2) The company which has insured the vehicle-and hence is liable to pay the compensation-raises untenable pleas and drags the claimants for years. (This case had dragged on for 18 years).
Long litigation is beyond the financial capacity of the claimants, who have to borrow money to see the litigation thorough. In the end, the compensation money goes to those who have been assisting the litigation, instead of the dependants of the victim.
In this case, the insurance company had filed a written statement before the Tribunal that the truck involved in the accident had been stolen prior to the accident and hence neither the owner nor the insurance company was liable. The owner later filed a written statement that the truck had not been involved in any accident. The Tribunal (and, on appeal, the High Court) accepted the story of the insurance company that since the widow could not establish the identity of the driver, she could claim no compensation. The Supreme Court reversed this decision of the High Court on the basis of the contradictions in the written statements of the insurance company and the owner, along with other evidence.
(3) The Supreme Court observed that the principle of "no fault liability for motor accidents" must be incorporated in the law against insurers and owners of vehicles. The dependants of victims can then claim an absolute minimum compensation without having to prove rash and negligent driving on the part of the driver. The following suggestions were made on this point:
(a) The minimum payment could vary with the number of dependants of the victim and with the period of their dependency. These payments could be made monthly through one of the nationalised banks nearest to the residence of the dependants.
(b) A monthly payment (instead of a lump sum, as under the present law) would substantially reduce the burden on the insurer and consequently on the insured.
(c) If the dependents are dissatisfied with the minimum payment, they may be allowed to pursue their remedies before the Tribunal. We shall, in due course, examine the matters referred to in this judgment.
1. Bishan Devi v. Sirbaksh Singh, AIR 1979 SC 1862 (November): (1980) 2 SCC 373 (February 1, 1980).
2. See also para. 3.29, infra.
3. See further para. 3.8, infra.