[Case Brief] Pappu and others v/s Vinod Kumar Lamba and Another, 2018

Case NamePappu and Others v/s Vinod Kumar Lamba and Another
Case NumberCivil Appeal Number 20962 of 2017
CourtSupreme Court of India
BenchChief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice AM Khanwilkar, Justice Dr DY Chandrachud
Author of the benchJustice Dr DY Chandrachud
Decided OnJanuary 19, 2018
Relevant Act/SectionsThe Motor Vehicles Act, 1988- Section 149(2)(a)(ii), section 163A, section 166, section 168
Author of the briefSaumya Snehal

Brief Facts and Procedural History:

On 12.08.1995, Om Prakash was driving Truck No.URS-2735 when it was knocked down by a rashly and negligently driven Truck No.DIL-5955 of the respondent which resulted in his death. The claim petition was filed by the widow of deceased Om Prakash who claimed compensation of Rs.7 lakh under Fault Liability and Rs.25,000/- under No-Fault Liability while his mother of Om Prakash claimed compensation of Rs.50,000/- separately.

The claim petition was partly allowed against respondent No.1 – the owner of the offending vehicle DIL-5955, however, the respondent No.2- the insurance company was absolved of any liability on the ground that the same was not driven by a person having a valid license, as found by the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal. An appeal petition was filed in the High Court challenging the exoneration of the insurance company from any liability which was dismissed. The appellant has moved the Supreme Court against the dismissal of the petition by the High Court.

Issues before the Court of Law:

  1. Whether Insurance Company has rightly been held not liable by holding that Truck No. DIL 5955 was not being driven by a person having a valid licence
  2. Whether the fact that the offending vehicle bearing No.DIL-5955 was duly insured by respondent No.2 Insurance Company would per se make the Insurance Company liable?
  3. Whether in the fact situation of this case the insurance company can be and ought to be directed to pay the claim amount, with liberty to recover the same from the owner of the vehicle (respondent No.1)?

The ratio of the Court:

No, the Insurance should be held liable for the claim of the appellants. Yes, although the court has established that there can be no general rule and that it has to be decided on the basis of each case, however, in this case, the fact that the offending vehicle bearing No.DIL-5955 was duly insured by respondent No.2 Insurance Company would per se make the Insurance Company liable. Yes, in this particular instance the insurance company has been directed to pay the claim amount, with liberty to recover the same from the owner of the vehicle (respondent No.1) in accordance with the law.

The Court has based this decision on the fact that the respondent-1 has nowhere contended that the insured vehicle was driven by the one Joginder Singh whose valid driving certificate has been produced in the Court. There can be no presumption that the vehicle was driven by a duly licensed driver or qualified to drive at the relevant time. The only defense entitled to the Insurance Company is that the offending vehicle was driven by an unauthorized person or the person driving the vehicle did not have a valid driving licence. The onus would shift on the Insurance Company only after the owner of the offending vehicle pleads and proves the basic facts within his knowledge. Here, the same has not been proved by the Respondent 1. Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 is a social welfare legislation and as such the settled principle is that the insurer’s liability cannot be absolved however he has a right to pay the claim amount, with liberty to recover the same from the insured in accordance with the law.

Decision Held:

The insurer (respondent No.2) shall pay the claim amount awarded by the Tribunal to the appellants in the first instance, with liberty to recover the same from the owner of the vehicle (respondent No.1) in accordance with law.

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