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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

truck was running ahead of the maruti car and at the time of accident, the distance between the truck and maruti car was only 10 ­15 feet. = Regulation 23 of the Rules of the Road Regulations, 1989 - “23. Distance from vehicles in front.­ The driver of a motor vehicle moving behind another vehicle shall keep at a sufficient distance from that other vehicle to avoid collision if the vehicle in front should suddenly slow down or stop.” The expression ‘sufficient distance’ has not been defined in the Regulations or elsewhere. The thumb rule of sufficient distance is at least a safe distance of two to three seconds gap in ideal conditions to avert collision and to allow the following driver time to respond. The distance of 10–15 feet between the truck and maruti car was certainly not a safe distance for which the driver of the maruti car must take the blame=whether the Tribunal should have at least answered the issue of contributory negligence of the truck driver in favour of the appellants (claimants). The question of contributory negligence would arise when both parties are involved in the accident due to rash and negligent driving. In a case such as the present one, when the maruti car was following the truck and no fault can be attributed to 13 the truck driver, the blame must rest on the driver of the maruti car for having driven his vehicle rashly and negligently= It is a well settled position that fastening liability under Section 140 of the Act on the owner of the vehicle is regardless of the fact that the subject vehicle was not driven rashly and negligently. We may usefully refer to the decisions in Indra Devi and others Vs. Bagada Ram and another1 and 1 (2010) 13 SCC 249 14 Eshwarappa alias Maheshwarappa and Another Vs. C.S. Gurushanthappa and Another2 , which are directly on the point. Accordingly, even though the appeal fails insofar as claim petition under Section 166 of the Act, for the appellants having failed to substantiate the factum of rash and negligent driving by the driver of the subject truck, the appellants must succeed in this appeal to the limited extent of relief under Section 140 of the Act. We have no hesitation in moulding the relief on that basis. For the reasons mentioned above, this appeal is partly allowed. The appellants are granted limited relief under Section 140 of the Act. The respondent Nos.2 and 3 are made jointly and severally liable to pay a sum of Rs.50,000/­ (Rupees Fifty Thousand Only) to the appellants towards compensation under Section 140 of the Act, on account of the death of Balvinder Kaur in the accident

1
REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CIVIL APPEAL NO. 10145 OF  2016
NISHAN SINGH & ORS.      …..Appellant(s)
:Versus:
ORIENTAL INSURANCE COMPANY LTD.
THROUGH REGIONAL MANAGER & ORS.    ....Respondent(s)
J U D G M E N T
A.M. Khanwilkar, J.
1. This   appeal,   by   special   leave,   filed   by   the   claimants
assails   the   judgment   and   order   of   the   High   Court   of
Uttarakhand at Nainital in Appeal From Order No.125 of 2015
dated 5th March, 2015, whereby the appeal was dismissed and
the order passed by the MACT/Additional District Judge­III,
Rudrapur, Udham Singh Nagar, dated 10th December, 2014 in
Motor Accident Claim Petition No.147 of 2012 dismissing the
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claim petition on the finding that the accident in question was
not on account of rash and negligent driving of Truck bearing
No.   U.P.­32   Z­2397   but   on   account   of   rash   and   negligent
driving of Maruti Car bearing No. U.P.­02 D­5292 resulting in
death of Balvinder Kaur who was sitting in the car driven by
Manjeet Singh, came to be upheld.
2. Briefly stated, appellant No.1 asserted that when he was
returning home to village Bindukhera with his wife Balvinder
Kaur, the mother of appellant Nos.2 to 4, from his matrimonial
home at village Kuankhera, District Bijnaur along with his
cousin   brothers   Manjeet   Singh   and   Bittu   and   his   son
Karanjeet   Singh   on   28th  November,   2010   in   a   Maruti   Car
bearing   No.   U.P.­02   D­5292   which   was   being   driven   by
Manjeet Singh, son of Kashmir Singh, the said car met with an
accident   causing   serious   injuries   to   the   persons   travelling
therein, including the death of Balvinder Kaur. The maruti car
had dashed against Truck bearing No. U.P.­32 Z­2397 which
was running ahead of it. According to the appellants, the truck
driver   suddenly   applied   brake   while   the   truck   was   in   the
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centre of the road, bringing it to the right side, as a result of
which, the maruti car collided with the truck from the back.
Balvinder Kaur eventually succumbed to her injuries on the
same   day   i.e.   28th  November,   2010,   while   she   was   being
treated at Govt. Hospital, Kashipur. After that, an F.I.R. was
registered   on  4th  December,   2010   at   police   station   Kunda,
District Udham Singh Nagar, bearing No.93/10 u/s 279 for
offences punishable under Sections 304A, 337, 338 and 427 of
IPC. The appellants asserted that Balvinder Kaur was gainfully
employed   and   earned   around   Rs.10,000/­   (Rupees   Ten
Thousand Only) per month from the dairy business.
3. On these assertions, a claim petition was filed before the
Motor Accident Claims Tribunal/Additional District Judge­III
Rudrapur,   Udham   Singh   Nagar   being   M.A.C.   Case
No.147/2012. Appellant No.1 who was travelling in the car
along with his wife deposed before the Tribunal. Appellants
also examined Manjeet Singh who was driving the Maruti Car
bearing   No.   U.P.­02   D­5292   at   the   relevant   time.   The
appellants also relied on the charge­sheet filed by the police
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against respondent No.3 (Parasnath) driver of the offending
truck.
4. The respondents contested the claim petition. According
to   the   respondents,   the   accident   occurred   due   to   the
negligence of the driver of the maruti car and there was no
negligence on the part of the truck driver. It was asserted by
the   respondents   that   the   truck   driver   had   a   valid   driving
licence.   Further,   the   appellants   had   failed   to   implead   the
owner and driver of the maruti car who was responsible for the
accident   and   as   such,   no   relief   could   be   granted   to   the
appellants.
5. The Tribunal analysed the entire evidence on record and
answered the issue as to whether the truck was being driven
in   rash   and   negligent   manner   against   the   appellants.   The
Tribunal instead held that the accident occurred due to rash
and negligent driving by the driver of the maruti car. The
Tribunal, therefore, concluded that the truck driver and the
insurer of the truck were not liable to pay compensation as
claimed.   The   Tribunal   noted   the   issue   of   contributory
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negligence but, having regard to the facts of the present case
and   particularly   because   the   owner   and   the   driver   of   the
maruti car were not made parties, it held that the appellants
were not entitled to any relief. The Tribunal also noted that the
maruti car was purchased by Manjeet Singh about 1­1½ years
before the accident but the same was not transferred in his
name nor was it insured. Taking an overall view of the matter,
the Tribunal dismissed the claim petition vide judgment dated
10th December, 2014.
6. The appellants carried the matter in appeal before the
High   Court   of   Uttarakhand   at   Nainital.   The   High   Court
summarily   dismissed   the   appeal   by   reiterating   the   finding
recorded by the Tribunal that the evidence clearly indicated
that the driver of the maruti car himself was negligent in
driving his vehicle and had failed to keep sufficient distance
between   the   two   vehicles   running   in   the   same   direction.
Furthermore,   the   maruti   car   driver,   owner   and   concerned
insurance   company   were   not   made   parties   to   the   claim
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petition. The High Court, thus, declined to interfere in the first
appeal.
7. The   appellants   have   assailed   the   aforementioned
decisions   in   this   appeal.   According   to   the   appellants,   the
finding recorded by the Tribunal and affirmed by the High
Court, that the driver of the maruti car had not maintained
safe distance from the truck running ahead of the maruti car
in the same direction, is untenable. The appellants have also
assailed   the   finding   of   fact   recorded   by   the   Tribunal   and
affirmed by the High Court that the maruti car was driven in a
rash and negligent manner. It is urged that the fact that the
maruti car was not registered in the name of Manjeet Singh or
that the documents pertaining to the maruti car and even the
valid   driving   licence   of   the   driver   of   maruti   car   was   not
brought on record, cannot denude the appellants to receive
compensation   due   to   contributory   negligence   of   the   truck
driver.   Further,   the   Tribunal   committed   manifest   error   in
recording the finding on the issue of contributory negligence
against   the   appellants   without   framing   any   issue   in   that
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behalf. It is urged that the findings recorded by the Tribunal to
absolve the truck driver, on the ground that the truck was not
driven rashly and negligently, is perverse and untenable in
law. Moreover, the Tribunal has completely glossed over the
efficacy   of   the   charge­sheet   filed   by   the   police   against
respondent   No.3   truck   driver   after   due   investigation.   The
appellants   have   also   reiterated   their   claim   regarding
compensation, on the assertion that deceased Balvinder Kaur
was earning around Rs.10,000/­ (Rupees Ten Thousand Only)
per month and after her death, her family was facing grave
hardship. According to the appellants, the Tribunal as well as
the High Court had dealt with the matter in a hyper­technical
manner and did not appreciate the evidence on the basis of
preponderance of probabilities.
8. The respondents, on the other hand, have supported the
finding of fact recorded by the Tribunal, that the accident
occurred  not   because  of   rash  and   negligent   driving   of  the
truck but was on account of rash and negligent driving by the
driver of the maruti car. On that finding, contends learned
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counsel for the respondents, no liability can be fastened on the
respondents. He submitted that the analysis of the evidence
on record by the Tribunal and affirmed by the High Court does
not warrant any interference. The respondents have supported
the conclusions recorded by the Tribunal and affirmed by the
High Court for dismissing the claim petition.
9. We   have   heard   Mr.   Vijay   Prakash,   learned   counsel
appearing   for   the   appellants   and   Mr.   K.K.   Bhat,   learned
counsel for the respondents.
10. The moot question is whether the Tribunal committed
any error in answering issue No.1 against the appellants and
in favour of the respondents. The Tribunal, while answering
the   said   issue   No.1,   analysed   the  evidence,  both   oral   and
documentary,   including   the   charge­sheet   filed   by   the
appellants and observed thus:
“20. In site plan paper No.6C/6 which is filed on record,
the breadth of the road in question appears to be 14 feet and
about 7 steps Kachcha Lekh appears at the both sides of the
road. This fact is remarkable that the said accident is not of
front   accident   but   the   accident   occurred   as   a   result   of
collision of the Maruti Car on the rear part of the truck in
question by the driver of the car in question and the same
fact is also mentioned in the evidence of the petitioners. PW2
Manjeet Singh driver of the car in question as stated in his
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cross examination that he was driving the car behind the
truck at the distance of about 10­15 feet. Despite there being
the breadth of the road 14 feet Pucca, the driver of the car in
question kept the vehicle only at the distance of 10­15 feet
from  the   truck   which   doesn’t   appear   in  accordance   with
traffic rules. He should have driven the vehicle maintaining
the   proper   distance   in   order   to   escape   from   each
circumstance but he has admitted in his cross examination
as PW­2 that, “he knows that he should maintain proper
distance from the heavy vehicle”. Under such circumstance if
the vehicle which is running behind the heavy vehicle, must
maintain the proper distance if the proper distance is not
maintain then the whole negligence shall be determined on
the   part   of   rear   vehicle   in   regard   to   the   occurrence   of
accident in question. In addition no evidence in regard to the
seizing of truck in question on the place of occurrence and
taking into police custody  the  vehicles from the place of
occurrence and getting done their technical survey is not
available on place of occurrence.
21. By   the   facts   mentioned   in   the   petition   and   by   the
evidence of PW­1 and PW­2 it doesn’t appear reliable that
rash and negligent driving in the accident in question was on
the part of the driver of the truck in question and for this
purpose only by registering of F.I.R. of said accident and
submitting of charge­sheet against the driver of the truck in
question, the driver of the truck in question cannot be held
guilty for the said accident, whereas by the evidence of the
petitioner   on   record   this   fact   comes   forward   that   the
accident occurred as the driver of the car in question was
not driving the car in question in accordance with traffic
rules i.e. the accident occurred as the vehicle was not being
driven maintaining proper distance from the truck and it
appears clearly that the speed of the car would have been
fast whereby the car in question collided with the rear part of
the truck in question being uncontrolled and said accident
took place. Under such circumstance there was no rash and
negligence on the part of the driver of truck bearing No.U.P.­
32 Z­2397 regarding the accident in question but the same
is determined on the part of Manjeet Singh driver of Maruti
Car bearing No.U.P.­02 D­5292.
22. On the basis of the aforesaid interpretation it appears
that the said accident didn’t occur on 28.11.2010 at about
10
6:45 p.m. at village Kunda Kashipur­Jashpur Road under
area of P.S. Kunda district Udham Singh Nagar by the driver
of the truck bearing No. U.P.­32 Z­2397 due to rash and
negligent driving of the truck and by applying sudden break
but it occurred as a result of rash and negligent driving of
Maruti   Car   bearing   No.   U.P.­02   D­5292   in   question   by
Manjeet   Singh   driver,   wherein   Balvinder   Kaur   who   was
sitting   in   the   car   sustained   serious   injuries   and   expired
during her treatment on account of serious injuries.”
The finding so recorded by the Tribunal has been affirmed by
the High Court, by observing that the evidence was clearly
indicative of the fact that the maruti car was being driven in a
rash and negligent manner, which was the cause for accident
of this nature and resulting in death of one of the passengers
in the maruti car. The maruti car was driven by none other
than PW­2 Manjeet Singh. In his evidence, he has admitted
that the subject truck was running ahead of the maruti car for
quite   some   time   about   one   kilometre   and   at   the   time   of
accident, the distance between the truck and maruti car was
only 10 ­15 feet. He has also admitted that the law mandates
maintaining sufficient distance between two vehicles running
in the same direction. It is also not in dispute that the road on
which the two vehicles were moving was only about 14 feet
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wide. It is unfathomable that on such a narrow road, the
subject truck would move at a high speed as alleged. In any
case,   the   maruti   car   which   was   following   the   truck   was
expected   to   maintain   a   safe   distance,   as   envisaged   in
Regulation 23 of the Rules of the Road Regulations, 1989,
which reads thus:
“23. Distance from vehicles in front.­ The driver of a motor
vehicle   moving   behind   another   vehicle   shall   keep   at   a
sufficient distance from that other vehicle to avoid collision if
the vehicle in front should suddenly slow down or stop.”  
                  
The expression ‘sufficient distance’ has not been defined in the
Regulations   or   elsewhere.   The   thumb   rule   of   sufficient
distance is at least a safe distance of two to three seconds gap
in ideal conditions to avert collision and to allow the following
driver time to respond. The distance of 10–15 feet between the
truck and maruti car was certainly not a safe distance for
which the driver of the maruti car must take the blame. It
must necessarily follow that the finding on the issue under
consideration ought to be against the claimants.
12
11. The Tribunal also noted that there was no evidence on
record to indicate that the driver of the truck suddenly applied
his brake in the middle of the road. Further, the finding on
issue   No.1   recorded  by   the  Tribunal   is  that   there  was   no
evidence regarding exact place of occurrence of accident and
having taken survey. Therefore, the issue under consideration
was answered against the appellants (claimants), namely, that
the subject truck was not driven rashly and negligently by the
truck driver nor had he brought the truck in the centre of the
road at right side or applied sudden brake as being the cause
of   the   accident.   Being   a   concurrent   finding   of   fact   and   a
possible view, needs no interference.
12. The next question is whether the Tribunal should have at
least   answered   the   issue   of   contributory   negligence   of   the
truck   driver   in   favour   of   the   appellants   (claimants).   The
question  of  contributory negligence  would  arise  when  both
parties are involved in the accident due to rash and negligent
driving. In a case such as the present one, when the maruti
car was following the truck and no fault can be attributed to
13
the truck driver, the blame must rest on the driver of the
maruti car for having driven his vehicle rashly and negligently.
The High Court has justly taken note of the fact that the driver
and owner of the maruti car, as well as insurer of that vehicle,
had not been impleaded as parties to the claim petition. The
Tribunal has also taken note of the fact that in all probability,
the driver and owner of the maruti car were not made party
being close relatives of the appellants. In such a situation, the
issue of contributory negligence cannot be taken forward.
13. However, even in such a case, the Tribunal could have
been well advised to invoke Section 140 of the Motor Vehicles
Act, 1988, (for short “the Act”) providing for liability of the
owner of the vehicle (subject truck) involved in the accident. It
is a well settled position that fastening liability under Section
140 of the Act on the owner of the vehicle is regardless of the
fact   that   the   subject   vehicle   was   not   driven   rashly   and
negligently. We may usefully refer to the decisions in  Indra
Devi   and   others   Vs.   Bagada   Ram   and   another1 and
1
(2010) 13 SCC 249
14
Eshwarappa alias Maheshwarappa and Another Vs. C.S.
Gurushanthappa  and   Another2
,  which are directly on the
point. 
 
14. Accordingly, even though the appeal fails insofar as claim
petition   under   Section   166   of   the   Act,   for   the   appellants
having failed to substantiate the factum of rash and negligent
driving by the driver of the subject truck, the appellants must
succeed in this appeal to the limited extent of relief under
Section 140 of the Act. We have no hesitation in moulding the
relief on that basis.
15. For the reasons mentioned above, this appeal is partly
allowed.   The   appellants   are   granted   limited   relief   under
Section 140 of the Act. The respondent Nos.2 and 3 are made
jointly   and   severally   liable   to   pay   a   sum   of   Rs.50,000/­
(Rupees   Fifty   Thousand   Only)   to   the   appellants   towards
compensation under Section 140 of the Act, on account of the
death of Balvinder Kaur in the accident which occurred on 28th
2
(2010) 8 SCC 620
15
November, 2010, along with interest at the rate of 9% from the
date of filing of the claim petition till realization.
16. The appeal is partly allowed in the above terms with no
order as to costs.   
.………………………….CJI.
(Dipak Misra)
…………………………..….J.
        (A.M. Khanwilkar)
…………………………..….J.
       (Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud)
New Delhi;
April  27, 2018.

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