Thursday, June 21, 2018

Nishan Singh vs Oriental Insurance Company Ltd. ... on 27 April, 2018




              CIVIL APPEAL NO. 10145 OF  2016

NISHAN SINGH & ORS.                                   …..Appellant(s)

THROUGH REGIONAL MANAGER & ORS.    ....Respondent(s)
J U D G M E N T 
A.M. Khanwilkar, J.

1. This   appeal,   by   special   leave,   filed   by   the   claimants assails   the   judgment   and   order   of   the   High   Court   of Uttarakhand at Nainital in Appeal From Order No.125 of 2015 dated 5th March, 2015, whereby the appeal was dismissed and the   order   passed   by   the  MACT/Additional   District   Judge­III, Rudrapur, Udham Singh Nagar, dated 10 th December, 2014 in Motor Accident Claim Petition No.147 of 2012 dismissing theclaim petition on the finding that the accident in question was not on account of rash and negligent driving of Truck bearing No.   U.P.­32   Z­2397   but   on   account   of   rash   and   negligent driving of Maruti Car bearing No. U.P.­02 D­5292 resulting in death of Balvinder Kaur who was sitting in the car driven by Manjeet Singh, came to be upheld.
2. Briefly stated, appellant No.1 asserted that when he was returning home to village Bindukhera with his wife Balvinder Kaur, the mother of appellant Nos.2 to 4, from his matrimonial home   at   village   Kuankhera,   District   Bijnaur   along   with   his cousin   brothers   Manjeet   Singh   and   Bittu   and   his   son Karanjeet   Singh   on   28th  November,   2010   in   a   Maruti   Car bearing   No.   U.P.­02   D­5292   which   was   being   driven   by Manjeet Singh, son of Kashmir Singh, the said car met with an accident   causing   serious   injuries   to   the   persons   travelling therein, including the death of Balvinder Kaur. The maruti car had dashed against Truck bearing No. U.P.­32 Z­2397 which was running ahead of it. According to the appellants, the truck driver   suddenly   applied   brake   while   the   truck   was   in   the centre of the road, bringing it to the right side, as a result of which, the maruti car collided with the truck from the back. Balvinder Kaur eventually succumbed to her injuries on the same   day   i.e.   28th  November,   2010,   while   she   was   being treated at Govt. Hospital, Kashipur. After that, an F.I.R. was registered   on   4th  December,   2010   at   police   station   Kunda, District   Udham   Singh   Nagar,   bearing   No.93/10   u/s   279   for offences punishable under Sections 304A, 337, 338 and 427 ofIPC. The appellants asserted that Balvinder Kaur was gainfully employed   and   earned   around   Rs.10,000/­   (Rupees   Ten Thousand Only) per month from the dairy business.
3. On these assertions, a claim petition was filed before the Motor   Accident  Claims Tribunal/Additional  District Judge­III Rudrapur,   Udham   Singh   Nagar   being   M.A.C.   Case No.147/2012.   Appellant   No.1   who   was   travelling   in   the   car along   with   his   wife   deposed   before   the   Tribunal.   Appellants also examined Manjeet Singh who was driving the Maruti Car bearing   No.   U.P.­02   D­5292   at   the   relevant   time.   The appellants also relied on the charge­sheet filed by the police against   respondent   No.3   (Parasnath)   driver   of   the   offending truck. 
4. The respondents contested the claim petition. According to   the   respondents,   the   accident   occurred   due   to   the negligence  of   the   driver  of the maruti car and there was no negligence on the part of the truck driver. It was asserted by the   respondents   that   the   truck   driver   had   a   valid   driving licence.   Further,   the   appellants   had   failed   to   implead   the owner and driver of the maruti car who was responsible for the accident   and   as   such,   no   relief   could   be   granted   to   the appellants.
5. The Tribunal analysed the entire evidence on record and answered the issue as to whether the truck was being driven in   rash   and   negligent   manner   against   the   appellants.   The Tribunal instead held that the accident occurred due to rash and   negligent   driving   by   the   driver   of   the   maruti   car.   The Tribunal,   therefore,   concluded that the  truck driver  and  the insurer  of  the  truck were not liable to pay compensation as claimed.   The   Tribunal   noted   the   issue   of   contributorynegligence but, having regard to the facts of the present case and   particularly   because   the   owner   and   the   driver   of   the maruti car were not made parties, it held that the appellants were not entitled to any relief. The Tribunal also noted that the maruti car was purchased by Manjeet Singh about 1­1½ years before the accident but the same was not transferred in his name nor was it insured. Taking an overall view of the matter, the Tribunal dismissed the claim petition vide judgment dated 10th December, 2014.
6. The   appellants   carried   the   matter   in   appeal   before   the High   Court   of   Uttarakhand   at   Nainital.   The   High   Court summarily   dismissed   the   appeal   by   reiterating   the   finding recorded   by   the   Tribunal   that   the   evidence  clearly   indicated that   the   driver   of   the   maruti   car   himself   was   negligent   in driving his vehicle and had failed to keep sufficient distance between   the   two   vehicles   running   in   the   same   direction. Furthermore,   the   maruti   car   driver,   owner   and   concerned insurance   company   were   not   made   parties   to   the   claimpetition. The High Court, thus, declined to interfere in the first appeal.
7. The   appellants   have   assailed   the   aforementioned decisions   in   this   appeal.   According   to   the   appellants,   the finding   recorded   by   the   Tribunal   and   affirmed   by   the   High Court, that the driver of the maruti car had not maintained safe distance from the truck running ahead of the maruti car in the same direction, is untenable. The appellants have also assailed   the   finding   of   fact   recorded   by   the   Tribunal   and affirmed by the High Court that the maruti car was driven in a rash and negligent manner. It is urged that the fact that the maruti car was not registered in the name of Manjeet Singh or that the documents pertaining to the maruti car and even the valid   driving   licence   of   the   driver   of   maruti   car   was   not brought   on   record,   cannot   denude  the   appellants   to   receive compensation   due   to   contributory   negligence   of   the   truck driver.   Further,   the   Tribunal   committed   manifest   error   in recording the finding on the issue of contributory negligence against   the   appellants   without   framing   any   issue   in   thatbehalf. It is urged that the findings recorded by the Tribunal to absolve the truck driver, on the ground that the truck was not driven   rashly   and   negligently,   is   perverse   and   untenable   in law.   Moreover,   the   Tribunal has completely  glossed over  the efficacy   of   the   charge­sheet   filed   by   the   police   against respondent   No.3   truck   driver   after   due   investigation.   The appellants   have   also   reiterated   their   claim   regarding compensation, on the assertion that deceased Balvinder Kaur was earning around Rs.10,000/­ (Rupees Ten Thousand Only) per   month   and   after  her  death,  her   family   was  facing  grave hardship. According to the appellants, the Tribunal as well as the High Court had dealt with the matter in a hyper­technical manner and did not appreciate the evidence on the basis of preponderance of probabilities.
8. The respondents, on the other hand, have supported the finding   of   fact   recorded   by   the   Tribunal,   that   the   accident occurred   not   because   of   rash   and   negligent   driving   of   the truck but was on account of rash and negligent driving by the driver   of   the   maruti   car.   On   that   finding,   contends   learned counsel for the respondents, no liability can be fastened on the respondents.  He submitted that the analysis of the evidence on record by the Tribunal and affirmed by the High Court does not warrant any interference. The respondents have supported the conclusions recorded by the Tribunal and affirmed by the High Court for dismissing the claim petition.  
9. We   have   heard   Mr.   Vijay   Prakash,   learned   counsel appearing   for   the   appellants   and   Mr.   K.K.   Bhat,   learned counsel for the respondents.
10. The   moot   question   is   whether   the   Tribunal   committed any error in answering issue No.1 against the appellants and in favour   of  the  respondents. The Tribunal, while answering the   said   issue   No.1,   analysed   the   evidence,   both   oral   and documentary,   including   the   charge­sheet   filed   by   the appellants and observed thus:
“20. In site  plan  paper   No.6C/6  which  is  filed on  record, the breadth of the road in question appears to be 14 feet and about 7 steps Kachcha Lekh appears at the both sides of the road. This fact is remarkable that the said accident is not of front   accident   but   the   accident   occurred   as   a   result   of collision of the Maruti Car on the rear part of the truck in question by the driver of the car in question and the same fact is also mentioned in the evidence of the petitioners. PW­ 2 Manjeet Singh driver of the car in question as stated in his cross   examination   that   he   was   driving   the   car   behind   the truck at the distance of about 10­15 feet. Despite there being the breadth of the road 14 feet Pucca, the driver of the car in question kept the vehicle only at the distance of 10­15 feet from   the   truck   which   doesn’t   appear   in   accordance   with traffic rules. He should have driven the vehicle maintaining the   proper   distance   in   order   to   escape   from   each circumstance but he has admitted in his cross examination as   PW­2   that,   “he   knows   that   he   should   maintain   proper distance from the heavy vehicle”. Under such circumstance if the vehicle which is running behind the heavy vehicle, must maintain   the   proper   distance   if   the   proper   distance   is   not maintain then the whole negligence shall be determined on the   part   of   rear   vehicle   in   regard   to   the   occurrence   of accident in question. In addition no evidence in regard to the seizing of truck in question on the place of occurrence and taking   into   police   custody   the   vehicles   from   the   place   of occurrence   and   getting   done   their   technical   survey   is   not available on place of occurrence. 
21. By   the   facts   mentioned   in   the   petition   and   by   the evidence   of   PW­1   and   PW­2   it   doesn’t   appear   reliable   that rash and negligent driving in the accident in question was on the part of the driver of the truck in question and for this purpose   only   by   registering   of   F.I.R.   of   said   accident   and submitting of charge­sheet against the driver of the truck in question, the driver of the truck in question cannot be held guilty for the said accident, whereas by the evidence of the petitioner   on   record   this   fact   comes   forward   that   the accident occurred as the driver  of the car in question was not   driving   the   car   in   question   in   accordance   with   traffic rules i.e. the accident occurred as the vehicle was not being driven   maintaining   proper   distance   from   the   truck   and   it appears clearly that the speed of the car would have been fast whereby the car in question collided with the rear part of the truck in question being uncontrolled and said accident took place. Under such circumstance there was no rash and negligence on the part of the driver of truck bearing No.U.P.­ 32 Z­2397 regarding the accident in question but the same is determined on the part of Manjeet Singh driver of Maruti Car bearing No.U.P.­02 D­5292. 
22. On the basis of the aforesaid interpretation it appears that the said accident didn’t occur on 28.11.2010 at about 6:45   p.m.   at   village   Kunda   Kashipur­Jashpur   Road   under area of P.S. Kunda district Udham Singh Nagar by the driver of   the   truck   bearing   No.   U.P.­32   Z­2397   due   to   rash   and negligent driving of the truck and by applying sudden break but it occurred as a result of rash and negligent driving of Maruti   Car   bearing   No.   U.P.­02   D­5292   in   question   by Manjeet   Singh   driver,   wherein   Balvinder   Kaur   who   was sitting   in   the   car   sustained   serious   injuries   and   expired during her treatment on account of serious injuries.”  The finding so recorded by the Tribunal has been affirmed by the   High   Court,   by   observing   that   the   evidence   was   clearly indicative of the fact that the maruti car was being driven in a rash and negligent manner, which was the cause for accident of this nature and resulting in death of one of the passengers in the maruti car. The maruti car was driven by none other than   PW­2   Manjeet  Singh. In his evidence, he  has  admitted that the subject truck was running ahead of the maruti car for quite   some   time   about   one   kilometre   and   at   the   time   of accident, the distance between the truck and maruti car was only 10 ­15 feet. He has also admitted that the law mandates maintaining sufficient distance between two vehicles running in the same direction. It is also not in dispute that the road on which   the   two   vehicles  were  moving   was  only  about  14  feet wide.   It   is   unfathomable   that   on   such   a   narrow   road,   the subject truck would move at a high speed as alleged. In any case,   the   maruti   car   which   was   following   the   truck   was expected   to   maintain   a   safe   distance,   as   envisaged   in Regulation   23   of   the   Rules   of   the   Road   Regulations,   1989, which reads thus:
“23. Distance from vehicles in front.­ The driver of a motor vehicle   moving   behind   another   vehicle   shall   keep   at   a sufficient distance from that other vehicle to avoid collision if the vehicle in front should suddenly slow down or stop.”                      The expression ‘sufficient distance’ has not been defined in the Regulations   or   elsewhere.   The   thumb   rule   of   sufficient distance is at least a safe distance of two to three seconds gap in ideal conditions to avert collision and to allow the following driver time to respond. The distance of 10–15 feet between the truck   and   maruti   car   was   certainly   not   a   safe   distance   for which   the   driver   of   the   maruti   car   must   take   the   blame.   It must   necessarily   follow   that   the   finding   on   the   issue   under consideration ought to be against the claimants.
11. The Tribunal also noted that there was no evidence on record to indicate that the driver of the truck suddenly applied his brake in the middle of the road. Further, the finding on issue   No.1   recorded   by   the   Tribunal   is   that   there   was   no evidence regarding exact place of occurrence of accident and having taken survey. Therefore, the issue under consideration was answered against the appellants (claimants), namely, that the subject truck was not driven rashly and negligently by the truck driver nor had he brought the truck in the centre of the road at right side or applied sudden brake as being the cause of   the   accident.   Being   a   concurrent   finding   of   fact   and   a possible view, needs no interference. 

12. The next question is whether the Tribunal should have at least   answered   the   issue   of   contributory   negligence   of   the truck   driver   in   favour   of   the   appellants   (claimants).   The question   of   contributory   negligence   would   arise   when   both parties are involved in the accident due to rash and negligent driving. In a case such as the present one, when the maruti car was following the truck and no fault can be attributed to the   truck   driver,   the   blame   must   rest   on   the   driver   of   the maruti car for having driven his vehicle rashly and negligently. The High Court has justly taken note of the fact that the driver and owner of the maruti car, as well as insurer of that vehicle, had not been impleaded as parties to the claim petition. The Tribunal has also taken note of the fact that in all probability, the driver and owner of the maruti car were not made party being close relatives of the appellants. In such a situation, the issue of contributory negligence cannot be taken forward.
13. However, even in such a case, the Tribunal could have been well advised to invoke Section 140 of the Motor Vehicles Act,   1988,   (for   short   “the   Act”)   providing   for   liability   of   the owner of the vehicle (subject truck) involved in the accident. It is a well settled position that fastening liability under Section 140 of the Act on the owner of the vehicle is regardless of the fact   that   the   subject   vehicle   was   not   driven   rashly   and negligently.  We  may  usefully refer  to the decisions in  Indra Devi   and   others   Vs.   Bagada   Ram   and   another1  and  (2010) 13 SCC 249Eshwarappa alias Maheshwarappa and Another Vs. C.S. Gurushanthappa   and   Another2,  which   are   directly   on   the point. 
14. Accordingly, even though the appeal fails insofar as claim petition   under   Section   166   of   the   Act,   for   the   appellants having failed to substantiate the factum of rash and negligent driving by the driver of the subject truck, the appellants must succeed   in   this   appeal   to   the   limited   extent   of   relief   under Section 140 of the Act. We have no hesitation in moulding the relief on that basis.
15. For   the   reasons   mentioned   above,  this   appeal   is  partly allowed.   The   appellants   are   granted   limited   relief   under Section 140 of the Act. The respondent Nos.2 and 3 are made jointly   and   severally   liable   to   pay   a   sum   of   Rs.50,000/­ (Rupees   Fifty   Thousand   Only)   to   the   appellants   towards compensation under Section 140 of the Act, on account of the death of Balvinder Kaur in the accident which occurred on 28 th  (2010) 8 SCC 620November, 2010, along with interest at the rate of 9% from the date of filing of the claim petition till realization. 
16.  The appeal is partly allowed in the above terms with no order as to costs.    
(Dipak Misra) …………………………..….J.
          (A.M. Khanwilkar) …………………………..….J.
         (Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud) New Delhi;
April  27, 2018. 

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