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Owner to be held vicariously liable for the negligence on the part of his driver : JAMMU AND KASHMIR HIGH COURT

If the owner has given charge of his vehicle to a duly licensed driver and the said driver, without express or implied knowledge consent of the owner, puts an unauthorized person in charge of the vehicle resulting in an accident, it would amount to negligence on the part of the licensed driver appointed by the owner and for this act of negligence, the owner will become vicariously liable. This was held in the judgment passed by a single judge bench comprising of HON’BLE MR. JUSTICE SANJAY DHAR,, in the matter United India Insurance Company Ltd v. Mst. Hanifa and others [IA No. 07/2009 [556/2009]], dealt with an issue where the petitioner filed a petition seeking setting an the Award dated 23.04.2009 passed by the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal, Srinagar, whereby the Tribunal has awarded a sum of ₹5,03,000/- in favour of the claimants and against the respondents.

Out of the awarded sum, an amount of ₹10,000/- each has been made payable by the driver and conductor of the offending vehicle, whereas the balance amount has been made payable by the insurance company. It is also provided that the awarded sum shall carry interest @ 6% per annum from the date of institution of the claim petition till realization of the awarded sum and if the awarded sum is not paid within two months, the interest has been made recoverable @ 9% per annum from the date of the default.

Riyaz Ahmed Dar, a driver by profession, had parked his vehicle and was standing by the side of his vehicle. In the meanwhile, a truck that was being driven rashly and negligently by its driver knocked the deceased down, resulting in his death. The claimants happen to be the mother and siblings of the deceased. In the claim petition, compensation in the amount of ₹36 Lacs was sought.

The insurance company contended that the vehicle in question, at the time of the accident, was being driven by its conductor, who was not authorized to do so and as such, the insurance company is not liable to pay any compensation to the claimants. On account of this, it is urged that there has been breach of policy conditions on the part of the insured and as such, the appellant-insurance company is not liable to indemnify the insured.

After hearing both sides, the Hon’ble High Court of Jammu and Kashmir dismissed the petition and held that that the owner of the vehicle is vicariously liable for the accident caused by the conductor of the vehicle, provided the owner had appointed a duly licensed driver to take charge of the vehicle, who in turn allowed the unlicensed conductor to drive the vehicle. It also held that the insurer in such a case cannot escape its liability to indemnify the insured because there is no willful breach of policy condition on the part of the insured inasmuch as the insured himself has not put an unlicensed or unauthorized person incharge of the vehicle.

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Judgement reviewed by – Vaishnavi Raman

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