Motor vehicle accidents victims and their rights

Abstract

India is well-known for being one of the world’s most accident-prone nations, with almost 1,50,000 casualties — or 10% of all motor vehicle-related deaths worldwide. However, the discussion often focuses on reducing traffic deaths by integrating deterrents into legislation rather than on the victims’ rights. This pattern has continued in the debate about the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act 2019, as demonstrated by the excessive press attention offered to the increased fines that would be imposed on criminals.

Though regrettable, the absence of victim-centricity in the dialogue is unsurprising. The fact that the National Crime Records Bureau does not collect information on traffic crash victims’ socioeconomic and social characteristics demonstrates the government’s apathy. The revised Act brings considerable relief to the injured by providing for increased insurance coverage. However, it fails to address the other shortcomings, like the evident faults in the calculation of the quantum of the compensation, inadequate provisions for not giving passage to the victims, delay in the settlement, et al. Considering the importance of the issue in hand, it has become significant to appraise the issue of the rights of the motor vehicle victims in view of the recent 2019 amendment to the standing Motor Vehicle Act 1988.

 


Introduction

The Motor Vehicles Act of 1988 was enacted to consolidate and amend the laws governing automobile accidents. When the Legislature passed the bill to amend or modify the statute, it considers both the current law and previous laws. In addition, this Act aims to regulate the use of motor vehicles and compensate individuals who are injured or disabled in an accident and their family members and dependents, where applicable.[1] This Act was amended again in 1994. The law is already in a period of extreme transformation, as shown by the latest amendment of 2019.

 

Overview of the rights of the victims of motor vehicle accidents

An operation for claiming compensation may be carried out by the person who was injured or by the vehicle’s owner, or, in the case of death by accident, by all or any of the deceased’s legal associates, or by an officer duly empowered by the injured person or by all or any of the deceased’s legal associates.[2] Those who are not dependents but are rightful heirs are entitled to compensation. A person’s civil associate, on the other hand, is not entitled to liability if he or she is liable for reckless or negligent driving.[3]

The Motor Vehicle Act of 1988 has a provision for reporting damages to themselves or others (third parties) due to a motor vehicle crash. Two types of injuries may occur:

Firstly, where a third party is harmed or has their property damaged.

Secondly, where the insurer does self-harm, including damage to the insurer’s own car.

However, the injury must be reported to the authorities as soon as possible and then to insurance companies in the event of third-party lawsuits. Before getting their damage settled, the individual must notify the insurance officers and police officers of their own accident lawsuits.

Furthermore, in contrast to previous rules, the 2019 amended Act provides some respite towards the victims as it increased insurance coverage of 5 lakh in the event of a person’s death in a road accident and 2.5 lakh in the event of “grievous damage.” The amount of money that can be paid in the event of a hit-and-run crash has now been increased to 2 lakh in cases where the victim dies and 50,000 in cases where the victim experiences a serious injury.

 

Compensation and Claim Appraisal



It is noteworthy that the compensation measurement can be improved, but it is not foolproof. There are some hypotheses to be taken with any such determination, and there is a good chance that judges will disagree on how to apply the different fundamentals affirmed by the Courts from time to time. CKS Iyer case’s scenario is an example of this,[4] where the Supreme Court stated that there is no exact universal formula for estimating the value of human life and that a mathematical calculation cannot do calculating damage, but that the recoverable amount is determined by the legal associate beneficiaries’ prospects for life.

With the rise of injury lawsuits, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India found a remedy in Susamma Thomas case, a landmark decision,[5] and has begun to recognise the deceased’s annual earnings.[6] Depending on the nature of the job, sex, and career prospects, this acknowledgement will range from doubling to quadrupling earnings. In light of the above case law, it can be concluded that determining compensation should be based on applying precedents to the facts and conditions of a specific case.

It has to be borne in mind that the Tribunal appointed under the Act as given in Section 168 is expected to make an award specifying the amount of compensation which is to be in the real sense ‘damages’ which in turn appears to it to be ‘just and reasonable’,” the Supreme Court said in State of Haryana v. Jasbir Kaur.[7]The courts and tribunals have a responsibility to weigh the different considerations to quantify the appropriate amount of compensation.”[8]

In the case of this application, all courts and tribunals should be guided by standards of good faith such that the final result is just and equitable.[9] This Court ruled that it must be flexible in determining the amount of compensation and not stingy in respecting life and property fairly in a democratic country’s legal system.[10]

 


The unrecognised deformities regarding the victim’s right under the amended Motor Vehicles Act

The recent amended Act now allows insurance providers and the government to alert policies relating to cashless care during the so-called “Golden Hour” — the first 60 minutes of a collision when the risk of fatality is at its lowest. It also requires mandatory protection for all road users, including cyclists, that a “Motor Vehicle Accident Fund will cover.” Finally, it stipulates that the applicants be granted temporary relief.

These provisions are, without a doubt, well-intentioned moves in the right direction. However, if the accident victims are to get full punishment, even more, has to be done.

Firstly, the method used to measure the quantum of payout should be scrutinised more closely. The deceased was a homemaker in Arun Kumar Agarwal & Anr v. National Insurance Co. Ltd & Ors.[11] Since she was unemployed, the Accident Claim Tribunal lowered the quantum of compensation from the intended sum of 6 lakh to 2,60,000. In view of this, the Supreme Court stated on appeal that “the time has come for Parliament to reconsider adequately evaluating homemakers’ and householders’ jobs and suitably amending the rules of the Motor Vehicles Act [...] for providing justice while the claimants are women and homemakers.” However, those nuances are not taken into account in the amended Act.

Secondly, many of the issues with the Motor Vehicles Act that the Supreme Court outlined in Jai Prakash v. M/S. National Insurance Co. & Ors[12] are either unaddressed or inadequately covered by the revised edition. For example, while vehicle users who refuse to allow an emergency ambulance vehicle to move can face fines, such disciplinary penalties are likely to be unsuccessful in the absence of an appropriate compliance process. Other causes that contribute to slow response times, such as a shortage of road connectivity, must also be considered.

Thirdly, another issue raised by the Supreme Court, about which the new Act offers no solution, is tribunals’ procedural delays in settling cases. The proposal for temporary payments is likely to provide considerable relief to the injured, but another unresolved issue leaves this provision vulnerable to scrutiny. Since the payout system lacks built-in protections, money may be squandered by unscrupulous families, touts, and officials, particularly when the claimant or nearest kin is poor and illiterate.

To resolve this issue, the Supreme Court in Jai Prakash recommended that victims or their kin receive payment in the form of monthly disbursements of smaller sums over a longer span of time, rather than a lump-sum grant. The new Act fails to recognise this.

 

Conclusion

Many of the issues posed above, understandably, cannot be defined statutorily. As a result, the government must provide an operational structure that promotes advocacy of victim’s right and enables access to different resources.

By Tushar Krishna



[1] K. Radhakrishnan Nair, Settlement of Motor Accidents Claim with special reference to Kerala (1995).

[2] Manjuri Bera v. Oriental Insurance Company (2007) 10 SCC 643.

[3] Oriental Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Raji Devi (2008) 5 SCC 736.

[4] C.K. Subramonia Iyer & Ors v. T. Kunhikuttan Nair & Ors, AIR (1970) SC 376.

[5] General Manager, Kerala State Road Transport Corporation, Trivandrum v. Mrs. Susamma Thomas, AIR (1994) SC 1631.

[6] R. D. Hattangadi v. Pest Control (India) Pvt. Ltd. (1995) 1 SCC 551.

[7] (2003) 7 SCC 484.

[8] Id.

[9] Mrs. Helen C. Rebello and others v. Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation & another, AIR 1998 SC 3191.

[10] Hardeo Kaur and others v. Rajasthan State Transport Corporation & another (1992) 2 SCC 567.

[11] AIR 2010 SC 3426.

[12] 2010 ACJ 455.

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