Neither Electrocution Victims Should Lose Compensation Due To Late Claim Filings Nor Electricity Department Can't Avoid Responsibility By Blaming Victims For Negligence: Chattisgarh HC
The Chattisgarh High Court held that late claim filings should not result in the loss of compensation for victims.
The Court allowed the Appeal challenging the judgment and decree passed by the Trial Court seeking compensation for the electrocution death of Hemant Dhruw.
The Court noted that the Electricity Department cannot evade responsibility by blaming victims for negligence.
The Bench comprising Justice Goutam Bhaduri and Justice Radhakishan Agrawal observed, “aggrieved person cannot be deprived of claiming compensation merely for the reason that claim petition was not preferred within time… The Electricity Department cannot escape its responsibility of paying compensation to the dependents of victims of electrocution by citing negligence on the part of the victim”.
Advocate C. R. Sahu appeared for the Appellants, Government Advocate Rahul Tamaskar appeared for the State and Advocate Prajanal Agrawal as Amicus Curiae.
An appeal was challenged by the judgment and decree passed by the Trial Court seeking compensation for the electrocution death of Hemant Dhruw. The Appellants, who were the deceased's legal heirs, contested the dismissal of the suit.
The case stemmed from an incident, where Hemant Dhruw sustained fatal injuries from an electric wire after heavy rains and a storm in Village Jhonka. Despite immediate medical attention, he passed away. The plaintiffs alleged negligence on the part of the Electricity Department, while the department contended the death resulted from self-inflicted injuries during transformer maintenance. The Trial Court dismissed the suit citing lack of negligence by the Electricity Department and the suit's limitation, leading to this appeal.
The Court framed the following issue: “When the suit was dismissed at the threshold on the ground of limitation, whether the limitation can be pressed into?”
The Court noted that the law of limitation in India is based on principles such as "Interest Reipublicae Ut Sit Finis Litium" meaning litigation must conclude in the interest of society, and "vigilantibus non dormientibus Jura subveniunt" indicating that the law aids those who are vigilant with their rights. The Court observed that this aims to balance the interests of the state and litigants, ensuring that litigation is limited. In cases involving minors as beneficiaries, it cannot be assumed that they are neglecting their rights due to their age.
The Bench observed that Section 2(j) of the Limitation Act 1963 (Act) defines the "period of limitation" as the timeframe prescribed for any suit, appeal, or application listed in the Schedule of the Limitation Act. Additionally, "prescribed period" refers to the limitation period calculated according to the provisions of the Limitation Act. Section 3(2) establishes the general rule that any suit, appeal, or application initiated after the prescribed period shall be dismissed, even if a limitation is not raised as a defence, subject to the provisions in sections 4 to 24 of the Act.
The Bench emphasized that the cause title of the suit revealed that four of the claimants were minors when the suit was filed in 2019, and they are legal representatives of the deceased Hemant Dhruw. The case did not stem from a fatal accident, contrary to the respondent's argument citing Article 82 of the Act. This disagreement arose because the majority of the claimants were minors, namely the children of Hemant Dhruw, indicating a continuous cause of action.
The Court noted that “the cause of action normally accrues when there is in existence a person who can sue and another who can sued and in the present case when the notice was sent in the year then only right to sue has accrued in the favour of the plaintiff, therefore the present case is not barred by limitation”.
The Bench emphasized that Section 9 of the Act discussed the Continuous Running of Time principle. The Court noted that once time starts to run, no subsequent disability or inability to initiate legal action halts it, except in specific cases like when letters of administration are granted to a debtor for the estate of a creditor, suspending the limitation period for a debt recovery suit. This exception exists because the same person cannot act as both the plaintiff and the defendant in a lawsuit. Time begins to run when the cause of action arises and when there are both a plaintiff who can sue and a defendant who can be sued.
Furthermore, the Court observed that the plaintiffs filed the case within a reasonable timeframe after serving notice to the respondent, so the suit cannot be considered time-barred. Regarding the evidence, witnesses testified that the deceased came into contact with a live electric wire and died from electrocution. The defence presented by the Electricity Department lacked substantial evidence, with witnesses being unclear about the incident details. Given the circumstances and lack of evidence to the contrary, the court accepted the plaintiff's version of events, attributing strict liability to the department for the death due to electrocution. The defence's argument of non-liability due to alleged negligence by the deceased lacked merit in the absence of substantial evidence, aligning with a precedent set by the Supreme Court in a similar case.
The Court noted that plaintiffs sought compensation of ₹25,00,000, claiming the deceased earned ₹7,000 monthly, with potential future earnings of ₹10,000. However, the Court observed that the deceased's monthly income at ₹5,000, considering the circumstances. Relying on the Supreme Court's decision in National Insurance Company Limited v Pranay Sethi and others [(2017) 16 SCC 680], the Court added 40% of the established income due to the deceased's age of 32 at the time of the incident. Citing Sarla Verma v Delhi Transport Corporation and Another [(2009) 6 SCC 121], the Court factored in future prospects at 40% of the salary. Considering the deceased had more than four dependents, the court deducted one-fourth of the personal income. With the deceased's age determining a multiplier of 16, the Court arrived at the quantum of compensation.
Accordingly, the Court allowed the Appeal and directed Defendants no 1 and 2 to pay an amount of ₹ 10,78,000/- to the plaintiffs.
Cause Title: Rameshwari v Junior/Assistant Engineer of Chhattisgarh State Electricity Board Office Balodabazar
Appellant(s): Advocate C.R. Sahu
Respondent(s): Government Advocate Rahul Tamaskar and Advocate Raja Sharma