“If there was any doubt to be cast on the veracity of the witness, the same should have come out in cross-examination, for which opportunity was granted to the respondents once”, this remarkable stand was forwarded by the Honorable SC in the Civil Appeal case of Anita Sharma & Ors. V. The New India Assurance Co. Ltd. & Anr., [Civil Appeal No. 4010-4011 of 2020], chaired by Hon’ble Justice Mr. Surya Kant and Hon’ble Mr. Justice Aniruddha Bose.
Sandeep Sharma (deceased), was a resident of District Sikar in Rajasthan. He was traveling in a car bearing registration no. UP 65 AA 7100 from Ghazipur to Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) on the night of 25.03.2009 along with his friend Sanjeev Kapoor (Respondent No. 2) and 2 other occupants. Sanjeev Kapoor, who was also its owner, was driving the car when at about 10:20 PM near village Atroli, a truck coming from the opposite side struck the car as a result of which all the occupants suffered injuries. Sandeep along with all the other injured occupants were immediately talked to the nearest hospital in Ghazipur at around 11:55 PM but was then referred to the institute of medical science and SS. Hospital, BHU Varanasi on 26.03.2009. It appears that Sandeep kept experiencing one after another medical complication, succumbing to which he eventually died on 10.12.2009.
At the time of death, the deceased was aged 34 years and was an income tax assessee with an EPF (Employees Provident Fund) account. He was employed in Mumbai at Kelvin ESS Vee Textiles as a Sales Officer on regular basis. He left behind a widow, two minor children and a mother; all of whom were solely dependent on him.
Sandeep’s dependents filed a claim petition for Rs 60,94,000 on 26.08.2010 alleging inter alia that the reason for his death was the injuries which he suffered in the accident dated 25.03.2009, which occurred due to the rash and negligent driving of Sanjeev Kapoor who was the owner-cum-driver of the car in which Mr. Sandeep was traveling. Sanjeev along with the insurer of the car (insurance company) was impleaded as party respondents.
Mr. Sanjeev accepting the fact that the death of the occupant Mr. Sandeep was a result of the accident but he believed that the accident which was caused was not due to his rash driving but due to the truck which struck them, he further added that as all of the occupant traveling in the car were severally shook and injured by the truck, none of them were able to note the number of the truck which made a hasty get-away towards Ghazipur.
In reaching its verdict, the Tribunal relied upon the statement of the eyewitness Ritesh Pandey (AW3), according to whom Sanjeev Kapoor was driving the car at a very fast speed when it overtook a vehicle & collided head-on against the oncoming truck. The Tribunal, thus, assigned liability for the accident upon the respondents and partly allowed the Claim Petition with compensation of rupees 16,08,000.
Both the insurance company and the appellant claimants filed their respective appeals before the HC. Through judgment dated 23.07.2018, the High Court set aside the Tribunal’s award & dismissed the claim petition for the reason that 1st, the eye-witness had failed to report the accident to the jurisdictional police. The court believed that the claimants might have produced the fake witness to seek compensation. Secondly, the FIR had been lodged by the owner-cum-driver, Sanjeev Kapoor, who would not have done so had he been at fault or driving rashly.
The original claimant challenges this decision of the HC of Rajasthan, dated 23.07.2018, in the honorable SC along with the prayers which consisted of accepting the tribunal court’s decision and enhancement of the compensation.
After examining all the submissions, arguments, and evidence forwarded by the councils, the Hon’ble SC in this present appeal overruled the decision made by the HC, with the direction that “…the appellants are held entitled to compensation as awarded by the Tribunal, besides 40% addition in the annual income of the deceased towards ‘future prospects’.The appellants are held entitled to interest @ 8.5%, as per the tribunal’s award, on the entire amount of compensation. The Tribunal shall recalculate the compensation within one month and the insurance company shall deposit the same within one month thereafter. No order as to costs.”