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Anita Sharma & Ors. vs The New India Assurance Co. Ltd. & Anr. - (Supreme Court) (08 Dec 2020)

Standard of proof in Motor Accident Claim Cases is one of preponderance of probabilities rather than beyond reasonable doubt

MANU/SC/0928/2020

Motor Vehicles

Present appeals are directed against the judgment passed by the High Court whereby the first appeal preferred by the New India Assurance Co. Ltd. (Respondent No. 1) against the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal’s (“Tribunal”) award was allowed and the Claim Petition was rejected, whereas the appeal filed by the Appellant-claimants for enhancement of compensation was consequently dismissed.

The two questions which fall for determination are whether the accident was caused due to rash and negligent driving of the car driver and whether Ritesh Pandey (AW-3) is a reliable witness or not.

The High Court ought not to have drawn any adverse inference against the witness for his failure to report the matter to Police. Further, as the police had themselves reached the hospital upon having received information about the accident, there was perhaps no occasion for AW-3 to lodge a report once again to the police at a later stage either.

Unfortunately, the approach of the High Court was not sensitive enough to appreciate the turn of events at the spot, or the Appellant claimants’ hardship in tracing witnesses and collecting information for an accident which took place many hundreds of kilometers away in an altogether different State.

The failure of the Respondents to cross examine the solitary eyewitness or confront him with their version, despite adequate opportunity, must lead to an inference of tacit admission on their part. The High Court has failed to appreciate the legal effect of this absence of cross-examination of a crucial witness.

Equally, the High Court failed to be cognizant of the fact that, strict principles of evidence and standards of proof like in a criminal trial are inapplicable in MACT claim cases. The standard of proof in such like matters is one of preponderance of probabilities, rather than beyond reasonable doubt. The approach and role of Courts while examining evidence in accident claim cases ought not to be to find fault with non-examination of some best eye¬witnesses, as may happen in a criminal trial; but, instead should be only to analyze the material placed on record by the parties to ascertain whether the claimant’s version is more likely than not true. The reasoning given by the High Court to disbelieve Ritesh Pandey AW¬3, on the other hand, cannot sustain and is liable to be overturned.

Adverting to the claimants’ appeal for enhancement of compensation, present Court is of the view that no effective argument could be raised on their behalf as to how the compensation assessed by the Tribunal was inadequate, except that in view of the authoritative pronouncement of this Court in National Insurance Co Ltd v. Pranay Sethi , the claimants are entitled to an increase of 40% towards annual dependency on account of ‘future prospects’ given the undisputed age of the deceased. Their appeal to that extent deserves to be allowed.

The judgment under appeal of the High Court is set aside and the Appellants are held entitled to compensation as awarded by the Tribunal, besides 40% addition in the annual income of the deceased towards ‘future prospects’. The Motor Accident Claims Tribunal, is directed to recalculate the compensation amount accordingly. The Appellants are held entitled to interest @ 8.5%, as per the Tribunal’s award, on the entire amount of compensation. The Tribunal shall re¬calculate the compensation within one month and the insurance company shall deposit the same within one month thereafter.

Tags : ACCIDENT   COMPENSATION   ENTITLEMENT  

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