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In accident claim cases the High court while examining the evidence should only analyze the material placed on record. – Supreme Court of India

The Supreme Court while adjudicating upon a motor accident claim appeal expressed displeasure over the approach adopted by the High Court in Examination of witnesses. The Supreme Court stated that the role of the High Court was to analyze the material on record and not to find faults in the cross-examination and non-examination of witness. This ratio was laid down in the case of Anita Sharma & Ors. Vs. The New India Assurance Co. Ltd. & Anr., Civil Appeal No. 4010-4011 of 2020.

The brief facts of the case are that there was a car accident that took place due to which the Petitioner suffered multiple injuries and after-sometime he died owing to the injuries he suffered in the accident. The dependents of the Petitioner filed a case against the Respondent who was the ‘owner-cum-driver’ of the car in which the accident took place. The Petitioners alleged that it was the rash and negligent driving of the respondent that caused the accident and demanded a compensation of Rs. 60,94,000/-. The Petitioner made the insurance company i.e. New India Assurance Co. as a party to the case, as the Respondent’s car was insured by the said company. The Respondent refuted all the claims and contended that the accident was caused due to the rash driving of the truck. The tribunal analyzed the evidences and material placed on record and on the basis of the eye witness present in the car who stated that, “Sanjeev Kapoor i.e. the Respondent was driving the car at a very fast speed when it overtook a vehicle and collided head-on against the oncoming truck”. Based on the testimony the tribunal allowed the claim and granted a compensation of Rs 16,08,000/-. The Respondents filed an appeal in the Rajasthan High Court.

The Rajasthan High Court reviewed the evidence and material in the case and set aside the award made by the Tribunal. The High Court observed that the eye-witness had failed to file an FIR with the jurisdictional police and only came and gave a statement when he was called upon by the Claimants. Secondly, the FIR was registered by the owner-cum-driver of the car and if he was rash and negligent in driving why would he do the same. Thirdly, the assertion of the eye-witness had taken the Petitioner to the government hospital was not proved. The insurance company stated that as per the FIR the accident was caused due to the rash driving of the truck whose details could not be recorded by anyone. The High Court on these grounds set aside the award of the Tribunal.

The Supreme Court while hearing the appeal expressed grave displeasure against the respondents acts of not carrying out proper cross examination of the witnesses and stated that, “The failure of the respondents to cross-examine the solitary eyewitness or confront him with their version,   despite adequate opportunity, must lead to an inference of tacit admission on their part. They did not even suggest the witness that he was siding with the claimants. The High Court has failed to appreciate the legal effect of this absence of cross­-examination of a crucial witness.” The Supreme Court also was not happy with the approach adopted by the High Court and was of the opinion that, “One needs to be mindful that the approach and role of Courts while examining evidence in accident claim cases ought not to be to find fault   with   non­examination   of   some   best   eye­witnesses,   as   may happen in a criminal trial; but, instead should be only to analyze the material placed on record by the parties to ascertain whether the claimant’s version is more likely than not true.” Hence, the Supreme Court set aside the judgment of the High Court and held that the appellants are entitled to a compensation granted by the tribunal plus 40% addition in the annual income of the deceased towards the future prospects.

[Please click here to view the judgment]

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