The Supreme Court has ruled that if a private vehicle requisitioned for election duty by the state administration meets with an accident that results in the death of a person, the state would be liable to pay compensation to the victim’s family and not the insurance company.
The ruling came on an appeal filed by the National Insurance Company challenging a May 17, 2005, order of the Himachal Pradesh High Court directing it to compensate the family of the victim who was killed when a private vehicle requisitioned for election duty during 1993 Assembly polls met with an accident.
A bench headed by Justice SB Sinha said: “We are of the opinion that the state shall be liable to pay the amount of compensation to the claimants and not the registered owner of the vehicle and consequently the appellant (insurance company) herein.”
If the owner is held liable, the insurance company pays the compensation amount in terms of the agreement between the two.
The ruling fills a void in the existing law as the Parliament had not taken into consideration a similar situation when the 1939 Act or the Motor Vehicles Act 1988 were formulated.
The vehicle — a Maruti Gypsy — was insured with the National Insurance Company as a private vehicle that was meant to be used “only for social, domestic and pleasures and insured's own purpose”.
The vehicle was, however, requisitioned by the sub-divisional magistrate, Rampur, through the deputy commissioner of police, Shimla, for the 1993 Assembly elections. It met with an accident resulting in the death of Satish Kumar.
The Motor Accident Claims Tribunal held that the insurance company was not liable to reimburse the vehicle’s owner.
However, the Himachal Pradesh High Court said that the owner, insurance company and the state government were all joint and severally liable to pay.
The insurance company had challenged the order before the Supreme Court.
The apex court observed that while the vehicle remained under requisition, the owner did not exercise any control over it.
“The driver may still be the employee of the owner of the vehicle but he has to drive it as per the directions of the officer of the state, who is put in-charge thereof.”
“In a situation of this nature, the statutory definitions contained in the 1988 Act cannot be given effect to in letter and spirit, the same should be understood from the common sense point of view,” the Supreme Court said.