15 July 2024


Judgments

Supreme Court

Beli Ram Vs. Rajinder Kumar and Ors.

MANU/SC/0715/2020

23.09.2020

Motor Vehicles

When the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident does not have a valid driving licence, insurance company is not liable to pay compensation

In facts of present case, the first Respondent herein, met with an accident while driving a truck owned by the Appellant, under whom, he was gainfully employed. The consequence for the first Respondent was 20 per cent permanent disability. The first Respondent herein filed a petition under the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1923 ('the Compensation Act') before the Commissioner, seeking compensation of an amount of Rs. 5,00,000, impleading the Appellant and second Respondent herein - the insurance company which had insured the vehicle. These proceedings resulted in an award by the Commissioner granting Rs. 94,464 for the injuries suffered and Rs. 67,313 towards medical expenses of the first Respondent. The compensation amount was mulled on to the second Respondent as insurer, while the interest was directed to be paid by the Appellant herein.

The parties to the proceedings filed appeals aggrieved by different aspects of the award. An intrinsic part of the consideration by the High Court was the issue raised about the validity of the driving licence of the first Respondent at the time of the accident. The driving licence was endorsed by the Superintendent of R & LA Office, Udaipur but the licence expired on 6th September, 1996 and there was no endorsement for renewal thereafter. Thus, the first Respondent was driving the vehicle as the driver of the Appellant herein for almost three years without the licence being renewed.

The aforesaid aspect of the non-validity of the driving licence weighed with the High Court while passing the impugned judgment, absolving the insurance company of any liability and fastening the same upon the Appellant herein on account of there being a material breach of the insurance policy. The sole question of law for consideration in the present appeals is whether in case of a valid driving licence, if the licence has expired, the insured is absolved of its liability.

Once the basic care of verifying the driving licence has to be taken by the employer, though a detailed enquiry may not be necessary, the owner of the vehicle would know the validity of the driving licence as is set out in the licence itself. It cannot be said that, thereafter he can wash his hands off the responsibility of not checking up whether the driver has renewed the licence. The licence in the instant case, has not been renewed for a period of three years and that too in respect of commercial vehicle like a truck. The Appellant showed gross negligence in verifying the same.

The Delhi High Court in Tata AIG General Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Akansha and Ors., found that, the driving licence having expired led to the natural finding that there was no valid driving licence on the date of the accident. The initial onus was discharged by the insurance company in view of the licence not being valid on the date of the accident. The onus, thereafter, shifted to the owner/insured to prove that, he had taken sufficient steps to ensure that there was no breach of the terms and conditions of the insurance policy. Since, no evidence had been led in this behalf, a presumption was drawn that, there was willful and conscious breach of the terms and conditions of the insurance policy.

The Appellant has permitted to let the first Respondent driver drive the truck with an expired licence for almost three years. It is clearly a case of lack of reasonable care to see that the employee gets his licence renewed, further, if the original licence is verified, certainly the employer would know, when the licence expires. And here it was a commercial vehicle being a truck. The Appellant has to, thus, bear responsibility and consequent liability of permitting the driver to drive with an expired licence over a period of three (3) years. Appeals dismissed.

Relevant

Tata AIG General Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Akansha and Ors. MANU/DE/0612/2015

Tags : Accident Compensation Liability

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