January 15, 2020

Violation of law does not by itself lead to contributory negligence in motor accident cases: SC

[ by Kavita Krishnan ]


A youth who was riding on the pillion of a motor cycle with two other persons died in a motor accident after being hit by a car from behind.

The Motor Accident Claims Tribunal found that the accident was caused due to the rash and negligent driving of the car and awarded an amount of Rs.11,66,800/- as the total compensation payable to the victim’s parents (appellants).

The Insurance Company filed a statutory appeal under Section 173 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (“Act”) appealing that primarily the deceased was guilty of contributory negligence inasmuch as he was riding on the pillion of the motor cycle with two other persons.

The High Court held that the deceased was also guilty of contributory negligence, as he was riding a motor cycle with two other persons even though the motor cycle in which the deceased victim was riding was hit by the speeding car from behind.

The High Court therefore concluded that an amount equivalent to 10% has to be deducted towards contributory negligence.

Aggrieved by this drastic reduction in the quantum of compensation, the claimants approached the Supreme Court.

A Bench of Supreme Court Justices N.V. Ramana and V. Ramasubramanian held that, “It is in such cases, where, but for the violation of the law, either the accident could have been averted or the impact could have been minimized, that the principle of contributory negligence could be invoked.”

The Apex Court went on to hold that the fact that a person was a pillion rider on a motor cycle along with the driver and one more person on the pillion would make him guilty of being a party to the violation of the law. Section 128 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, imposes a restriction on the driver of a two wheeled motor cycle, not to carry more than one person on the motor cycle. Section 194C of the Act prescribes a penalty for violation of safety measures for motor cycle drivers and pillion riders. But such violation by itself, without anything more, cannot lead to a finding of contributory negligence, unless it is established that his very act of riding along with two others, contributed either to the accident or to the impact of the accident upon the victim. A causal connection between the violation and the accident or a causal connection between the violation and the impact of the accident upon the victim must be established in order to find him guilty of contributory negligence.

The Court thus concluded that in the absence of any evidence to show that the wrongful act on the part of the deceased victim contributed either to the accident or to the nature of the injuries sustained, the victim could not have been held guilty of contributory negligence.

The Supreme Court overturned the High Court’s decision to reduce the compensation by 10% towards contributory negligence stating that it is unjustified and therefore set aside. The award of the Tribunal was restored.

View Full Judgement

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