15 August 2020

Insurance company is not liable to pay compensation for death of third party if vehicle is used as a weapon to murder by crushing down

Whether the brutal killing of two persons by the 7 th Respondent/Driver (who has been found guilty of murder under Section 302 IPC and has been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by the Trial Court) using the Truck as a weapon and crushing them down, could be treated as an 'accident' or as 'out of the use of a motor vehicle' so as to award compensation to the legal representatives of the deceased, on the strength of a policy issued by the Appellant-Insurer? The finding of the Tribunal that the said incident is an accident and the Appellant/Insurer is liable to pay the compensation, is put to challenge in these appeals.[Para No.1]

    Coming to the scope for payment of compensation under the MV Act and the coverage of third party risk, Chapter XI has been provided for insurance of the motor vehicles against the third party risk. Section 146 speaks about the necessity for insurance against third party risk to the effect that no person shall use, except as a passenger, or cause or allow any other person to use, a motor vehicle in a public place, unless there is in force in relation to the use of the vehicle by that person or that other person, as the case may be, a policy of insurance complying with the requirements of the said Chapter. The requirements of policy and limits of liability have been mentioned under Section 147 of the MV Act; whereas the duty of the insurers to satisfy judgments against persons insured in respect of third party risk has been dealt with under Section 149 of the MV Act.[Para No.11]

    As mentioned already, on occurrence of an accident involving use of a motor vehicle, compensation can be claimed either under Section 163A of the MV Act on the basis of a structured formula (where it is not necessary for the Claimants to plead or prove negligence on the part of the Driver or the Owner) or under Section 166 of the MV Act by proving the negligence on the part of the Driver of the offending vehicle. It is quite possible that in a given case, 'murder' can be an 'accident'. If only it amounts to an 'accident', can it lead to a claim petition, to be filed by the Claimants, seeking compensation in respect of such accident because of the use of the motor vehicle either under Section 163A or under Section 166 of the MV Act. The Claims Tribunal envisaged under Section 165 of the MV Act names the Tribunal as 'Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal' and if it is not an accident, no such claim can be held as maintainable, to be entertained by the Tribunal.[Para No.12]

Insurance company is not liable to pay compensation for death of third party if vehicle is used as a weapon to murder by crushing down
    The question whether a murder can be an accident in a given case had come up for consideration before the Apex Court in Rita Devi (supra). It was a case where some unknown passengers hired an Autorickshaw from an autostand at Dimapur and later, the vehicle was reported stolen and the dead body of the Driver was recovered by the Police on the next day. The Autorickshaw was never recovered and the claim of the owner for the loss of Autorickshaw was considered and sanctioned by the Insurer, satisfying the amount for which it was settled. A claim petition was filed by the legal representatives of the deceased Driver under Section 163A of the MV Act, claiming compensation for the death as having arisen out of and in the course of his employment. The Tribunal held that it was caused by 'accident' coming within the purview of the MV Act and the owner and the Insurer were liable. The Insurance Company took up the matter before the High Court where it was held that there was no motor accident as contemplated under the MV Act and that it was an act of murder. Accordingly, the appeal was allowed and the award passed by the Tribunal was set aside. This led to the proceedings before the Apex Court where the question was subjected to a threadbare analysis; particularly on the point of 'dominant intention'. The Apex Court observed that there are instances where murder can be by accident on a given set of facts and that the difference between a murder 'which is not an accident' and a murder 'which is an accident' depends upon the proximity of the cause of murder. The Apex Court held that if the 'dominant intention' of the act of felony is to kill any particular person, then such killing is not an accidental murder but a 'murder simplicitor'; whereas, in a case where act of murder was originally not intended and the same was caused in furtherance of any other felonious act, then such murder is an 'accidental murder'.[Para No.13]

    Applying the law as above to the given set of facts and circumstances, the Apex Court concluded that the deceased Driver of the Autorickshaw was duty bound to have accepted the demand of fare paying passengers to transport them to the place of their destination. During the course of this duty, if the passengers had decided to commit an act of felony of stealing the Autorickshaw and in furtherance to the said object of stealing the Autorickshaw, they had to eliminate the Driver of the Autorickshaw, then it cannot but be said that the death so caused to the Driver of the Autorickshaw was an 'accidental murder'. The stealing of the Autorickshaw was the object of the felony and the murder that was caused in the said process of stealing the Autorickshaw was only 'incidental' to the act of stealing the autorickshaw. It was accordingly held that, in the given set of facts and circumstances, the death of the Driver of the Autorickshaw was caused accidentally in the process of committing the theft of the Autorickshaw, thus, declaring that it had arisen out of the use of the motor vehicle. The verdict passed by the High Court was set aside and the award passed by the Tribunal was restored (besides holding that the appeal preferred by the Insurance Company before the High Court was not maintainable for not satisfying the requirements under Section 170 of the MV Act) by the Apex Court.[Para No.14]

    Coming back to the case in hand, it is to be considered whether the loss of life of the deceased was because of the 'dominant intention' of the Driver/Accused to cause death. Admittedly, there was an altercation on the relevant date at about 9:15 pm between the Respondent-Driver and the deceased by name Ashok Singh who was standing with his friend (Ram Sewak Jaiswal, deceased in the connected case). It was on getting provoked that the Respondent Driver took the Truck and crushed both the persons to death, using the vehicle. Thus, this is a case where the vehicle was taken used as a tool/weapon to kill the persons concerned in furtherance to the sole intention. No other instance is involved to consider whether it was incidental to some other felonious act as observed by the Apex Court in Rita Devi (supra). The 'dominant intention' on the part of the Respondent-Driver is clearly discernible and the prosecution has succeeded in establishing the crime registered against the Driver- Respondent; ultimately leading to conviction and sentence for the offence punishable under Section 302 IPC, who is undergoing life imprisonment. Since the 'dominant intention' is substantiated as above, it is a case of "murder simplicitor" and not an incidental murder, as explained by the Apex Court in Rita Devi (supra). As it stands so, it is not a case coming within the purview of the insurance policy issued by the Appellant to meet the statutory requirements under Section 147 of the MV Act towards the third party and hence, no liability can be mulcted on the Appellant-Insurer where the Tribunal has gone wrong.[Para No.17]

Chattisgarh High Court

United India Insurance Co.Ltd.
Smt.Girija Devi Jaiswal

Decided on 14/08/2020

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