A minor injured in an accident cannot be denied compensation solely on the ground that he did not have a driving licence, the Supreme Court has said.
In a ruling of far-reaching consequence, a Bench headed by Justice SB Sinha said that the only question for deciding contributory negligence to deny or reduce compensation to such a minor is whether he/she was driving in a rash or negligent manner.
“If a person drives a vehicle without a licence, he commits an offence. The same, by itself, in our opinion, may not lead to a finding of negligence as regards the accident,” the court said allowing an appeal filed by a minor, Sudhir Kumar Rana, against a Delhi High Court verdict upholding a tribunal’s order reducing the compensation awarded to him on account of his “contributory negligence.”
Rana (17) had sustained injuries when a mini truck, that was allegedly being driven rash and negligently, rammed into his motorbike. The Motor Accident Claims Tribunal opined that since Rana did not possess a driving licence, he must be held to have contributed to the accident. As a result, although a sum of Rs 30,000 was awarded to him, it was later reduced to Rs 12,000. He moved the Supreme Court after the high court dismissed his appeal against the tribunal’s order.
“It is one thing to say that the appellant did not possess a licence but no finding of fact has been arrived at that he was driving the two-wheeler rashly and negligently. If he (Rana) was not driving rashly and negligently, which contributed to the accident, we fail to see as to how, only because he did not have a licence, he would be held to be guilty of contributory negligence,” said the apex court.
Considering the question whether the appellant minor could be guilty of contributory negligence, the court said ordinarily the doctrine was not applicable in case of children with the same force as in the case of adults.
“The question is, negligence for what? If the complainant must be guilty of an act or omission which materially contributed to the accident and resulted in injury and damage, the concept of contributory negligence would apply”, it said.