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Report No. 149

Chapter 8

Limitation Period for Claims

8.1. Section 110A(3) of the 1939 Act originally provided that an application for compensation in respect of the injury caused by a motor vehicle accident should be made within a period of sixty days of the occurrence of the accident. The proviso to the sub-section, however, enabled the Claims Tribunal to entertain an application made after the expiry of the said period if it was satisfied that the applicant was prevented by sufficient cause from making the application in time. Act 56 of 1969 amended the sub-section raising the time-limit of 60 days to six months, apparently because the period of sixty days originally prescribed was found to be too short and it caused great hardship.

8.2. The 1988 Act, while re-enacting the terms of section 110A(3) of the 1939 Act, effected a substantial change. Section 166(3) of the 1988 Act, corresponding to section 110A(3) of the 1939 Act, reads:

"No application for such compensation shall be entertained unless it is made within six months of the occurrence of the accident:

Provided that the Claims Tribunal may entertain the application after the expiry of the said period of six months but not later than twelve months, if it is satisfied that the applicant was prevented by sufficient cause from making the application in time." By the insertion of the underlined words, the 1988 Act has restricted the power of the Tribunal to condone the delay in filing of the application to a period of six months. In other words, if the application is filed beyond the period of twelve months specified in the proviso, the Tribunal would have no power to entertain the application and be compelled to reject it as time-barred."

8.3. The notes on clauses appended to the Motor Vehicles Bill, 1988 does not give any reason for this change while re-enacting section 110A of the 1939 Act. Presumably, the Legislature had in mind the handicaps and difficulties in procuring necessary evidence that could arise if an application for compensation is made long after the accident and it therefore considered the outer limit of twelve months adequate to cover all cases and eventualities.

8.4. The Commission has received representations from various quarters that the new provision, imposing a rigid time limit for making of claims under the Act, is causing serious hardship and that it should be removed.1

1. Letter received from Mr. Mathews J. Nedumpara, Advocate dated 17-12-93 states that some Members of Parliament have brought this to the notice of the Government and that a Private Members' Bill has already been sought to be moved on this subject.

8.5. The Commission has considered the issue and is of the opinion that the balance of interest lies in favour of prescribing a time-limit which can be relaxed by the Tribunal in appropriate cases. The victims of motor vehicles accidents are, in most cases, poor and illiterate persons whose ignorance of the legal provisions and difficulties in securing legal and financial assistance are formidable. Their interests will suffer if a rigid time-limit is imposed even though it may be as long as 12 months.

Even in other cases, considerable time often is required for ascertaining the necessary details, going through the procedures of obtaining necessary certificates and in travel where the accident occurs at a distant place. Cases are also not uncommon where the injury caused to the victim is of a very serious nature; the victim may be under coma or need hospitalisation or treatment for a long period of time and hence unable to present the application within the prescribed period of twelve months.

8.6. It has been represented to the Commission that in practice too, a large number of applications are being dismissed all over the country on the ground of delay and that the rigid time-limit is also being applied in respect of accidents which occurred before the coming into force of the 1988 amendment1 resulting even in the dismissal of applications that had been earlier entertained.

1. Relying on the decision in Vinod Gurudas Raikar v. National Insurance Company Ltd. AIR 1991 SC 2156 that the amendment is retrospective.

8.7. Having considered all aspects of the issue, the Commission is of the opinion that the language of the proviso to section 110(3) is preferable to that of the present provision in section 166(3). The provision, as embodied in the 1939 Act, we think, safeguarded the interests of all concerned persons. It required the filing of application normally within a period of six months and gave power to the Tribunal to relax the requirement only in deserving cases.

It is difficult to conceive the various types of situations that could lead to delay in the filing of the application and the imposition of a rigid outer limit, however liberal, would not always be conducive in the interests of justice. In our view, the better course would be to prescribe a short period of limitation and leave a discretion to the Tribunal to entertain applications after the prescribed period provided sufficient cause is shown rather than to enlarge the period of limitation and make it rigid.

8.8. For the above reasons, we recommend that the words "but not later than twelve months" in section 166(3) be omitted.

Removing certain deficiencies in the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 Back

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