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Saturday, December 1, 2018

Motor Accident Claims - How is income reckoned for compensation

Vehicles on road are ever increasing and so does accidents !!    Motor Insurance and liability arising out of use of motor vehicles in public place is well defined - there are Tribunals [Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal (MACT)] wherein victims or their heirs can file claiming compensation in a simplified process.

Sadly, the petition itself is a gory explanation of pain and suffering – sordid tale of how lives get changed by that momentary madness of any accident.  In the cited instance, the deceased was 39 years old, employed with FCI passed away in a road accident.   The MACT held the owner of the truck, the insurer and the driver were jointly and severally liable to pay the amount of compensation to the claimant.  The Tribunal passed an award of a sum of Rs. 12,90,000/- in favour of the claimants recoverable @ 9% per annum from the date of filing of claim petition, till its realization from the respondents jointly and severally.

The issue here was the income of the deceased – being a salaried person, the monthly salary could be established – and by way of salary certificate – it was claimed to be Rs.8848/- per month.  The amount of salary was not questioned. The Tribunal passed the award on the basis of the salary, but did not consider his Income tax returns that showed an income of Rs.2,42,606/- per annum for the assessment year 2004-05.  The Tribunal held that the claimants had not led any evidence to explain the contradictions between the two figures of income emerging from the evidence of the employer of the deceased and the income tax record, and passed the award relying on the salary certificate issued by the employer of the deceased.

In a revision carried to the High Court by the Insurance Company and appeal by the claimants, the High Court took the income of the deceased as found in the income tax assessment and provided for 50% increase as future prospect. The High Court applied the lower multiplier of 15 instead of 16 and after making a deduction of 1/4th for the personal expenses, increased the compensation to Rs. 44,03,980/- with interest @ 7.5% per annum from the date of petition. 

Aggrieved by the same, the Insurance Company approached the Supreme Court contending that the High Court error by taking into account the income of the deceased as per the income tax returns. The Two-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal  observing that there is no doubt that  if the salary certificate is taken into account the salary of the deceased should be taken as Rs.1,06,176/- since the gross salary was Rs.8848 per month. That, however, in our view does not mean that the income of the deceased as stated in the Income Tax return should not be considered.  The claimants had led reliable evidence that the deceased had returned an income of Rs. 2,42,606/- for the assessment year 2004-05. This piece of evidence has not been discredited. Indeed, it was possible that the deceased had income from other sources also.  There is nothing in the law which requires the Tribunal to assess the income of the deceased only on the basis of a salary certificate for arriving at a just and fair compensation to be paid to the claimants for the loss of life. The Bench stated that – ‘we see no reason to interfere with the judgment of the High Court. The SLPs are accordingly dismissed’. (SLP  Nos. 7104-7105 of 2016 -  United India Insurance Vs Indiro Devi)..  before you wonder on its impact, here is something interesting decided by the Tribunal at Puducherry.

In Sept 2015, a final year B.Tech student died in a road accident while driving a two-wheeler, in a collision with a truck.  He had been selected and recruited in a campus interview – the job agreement to be effective July 2016 proposed remuneration of 6.30 lakhs.   The owner and driver of the truck remained absent and set ex-parte.  The Tribunal held the truck to be negligent of rash driving and observed from post-mortem report that the victim died of head injuries.  The deceased was not wearing a helmet and held that the victim contributed 15% of negligence.  They cited judgment reported in 2017(1) TN MAC 423 which held that as drier was not found wearing helmet as mandated by Sec 128 & 129 of Motor Vehicle Act, 15% contributory negligence to be fixed on deceased.   The Court held that R1 – R3 (driver, owner and Insurer of truck) were jointly and severally liable to pay compensation.

The age of the deceased, relationship of petitioner were proved.  To prove that deceased was a brilliant student, mark sheets were filed before Court so also the offer of employment and remuneration.  The Tribunal accepted the same; added 40% future prospects, deducted Income tax @ 10% slab, deducted 50% towards personal expenses and applied multiplier @ 18 as per Sarla Verma case. Tribunal further awarded loss of love & affection at Rs.25000 each; 15000 for funeral expenses and 15000 for loss of estate – after deducting 15% for not wearing helmet – awarded Rs.63,32,000/-

In this case, the Court has adopted an income which was yet to be earned and there could perhaps be some vagaries which could impact it becoming real – and whether this income can be viewed as ‘speculative’ is the Q.  However, the job offer is irrefutable and the deceased had a job at hand upon completion of his education – and this being a well documented income, there was possibility of adopting future benefits at 50% too. .. .. though the verdict seems to be disciplined and process-oriented, it goes against the Insurer, who is called upon to pay for every logic and burdened always.

There are learnings from every new aspect and every new angle !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

15th Nov. 2o18.

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