Supreme Court: In cases of drunken driving, absence of breath analysis or blood test may not disable the insurer from establishing a case for exclusion The Supreme Court (SC) on 12 April 2021, in the case titled IFFCO Tokio General Insurance Company Ltd. (Appellants) v. Pearl Beverages Ltd. (Respondents) ruled that lack of scientific material in the form of blood tests or breath analyzer...
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Supreme Court: In cases of drunken driving, absence of breath analysis or blood test may not disable the insurer from establishing a case for exclusion
The Supreme Court (SC) on 12 April 2021, in the case titled IFFCO Tokio General Insurance Company Ltd. (Appellants) v. Pearl Beverages Ltd. (Respondents) ruled that lack of scientific material in the form of blood tests or breath analyzer reports would not preclude an insurer from establishing a case for exclusion from liability under the contract on the ground of intoxication.
The SC bench comprising of Justices Uday Umesh Lalit, Indira Banerjee, and KM Joseph stated that the circumstances obtaining in a case must be considered as a whole and not just the part of happenings should be taken into account.
The bench stated that "There is a blood test or breath test, which indicates that there is no consumption at all, undoubtedly, it would not be open to the insurer to set up the case of exclusion. However, in cases, where there is no scientific material, in the form of test results available, as in the case before us, it may not disable the insurer from establishing a case for exclusion."
In the instant matter, the Apex Court was hearing a matter related to a consumer case against IFFCO Tokio General Insurance Company filed by Pearl Beverages whose car had met with an accident in November 2007.
It was held by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) that the insurance company could not invoke the Exclusion Clause in the contract as there was no material to establish that the driver of the vehicle was under the influence of intoxicating liquor within the meaning of the Exclusion Clause.
An appeal was filed by the insurance company to the Top Court against the judgment of the NCDRC. It was contended on behalf of the insurance company that there was unimpeachable material to establish that the car was being driven by a person who was under the influence of intoxicating liquor.
The company further claimed that the high speed and the manner in which the accident occurred, along with the fact that the FIR and the Medico-Legal Case (MLC) indicating that the driver smelt of the alcohol sufficed to attract the Exclusion Clause and protect the insurance company.
It was further emphasized that in the criminal case, the driver pleaded guilty and the sentence, as already noticed, came to be pronounced by the Criminal Court.
The SC stated that according to the MCL the driver of the car had a smell of alcohol. It further observed that though the driver in his evidence (affidavit evidence), had not even stated that he had not consumed alcohol, as was the specific case set up in the complaint. The Court admitted that there was no evidence as to the quantity of alcohol consumed.
The SC noted that however there is no evidence other than the smell of alcohol being detected on both the driver and the co-passenger, of any other effects of consumption of alcohol, but the manner in which the accident occurred established that the driver was under the influence of alcohol.
It noted that "The accident took place when the road would have been wholly free from any traffic (There is no case whatsoever that the accident was caused by another vehicle being driven in any manner or any person or animal attempting to cross the road or otherwise deflecting the attention of the driver)."
The Court considered a situation wherein "There was sudden attempted human or animal crossing, and the driver to obviate any such accident, may drive in the manner, which culminated in the accident. The driver, in his chief examination, has not given any explanation, whatsoever, for the happening of the accident. He does not have a case that there was any breakdown in the car or of the brakes."
The SC allowed the appeal while setting aside the order of the National Commission and concluded that the accident was caused due to drunk driving.