The Karnataka High Court held that, in motor accident compensation claims, the burden of proving that the deceased driver did not possess valid driving licence is upon the Insurance Company.

The Court partially allowed an appeal by the Insurance Company, contesting the Commissioner for Workmen's Compensation's award of Rs.4,23,580/- with 12% per annum interest to the deceased driver's legal representatives.

The Court emphasized the principle of 'Pay and Recovery' principle and affirmed the liability of an insurance company to compensate the family of a deceased individual involved in a fatal lorry accident.

The Bench of Justice T.G. Shivashankare Gowda observed, “burden of proving that the deceased driver did not possess valid driving licence is upon the Insurance Company, but there is no evidence placed by the Insurance Company”.

Advocate B. C. Seetharama Rao appeared for the Appellant and Advocate K. Shashikanth Prasad appeared for the Respondent.

In this appeal, the Insurance Company contested the award issued by the Commissioner for Workmen's Compensation, Chitradurga District. The case revolved around the owner of the lorry, S.M. Nooruddin, who employed the deceased, Ghouse, as the driver. The lorry capsized, resulting in Ghouse's death and his legal representatives sought compensation under Section 22 of the Workmen Compensation Act (Act) from the Commissioner. Following the presentation of evidence, the Commissioner, through the impugned judgment, awarded compensation of Rs.4,23,580/- with interest at 12% per annum. Dissatisfied with the imposed liability, the Insurance Company filed this appeal on various grounds.

In the given circumstances, the Court noted the undisputed relationship between the parties. The Petitioners, who are dependents of the deceased, filed a suit against the first respondent, the owner of the lorry involved in the accident that led to the deceased's death. The Court recognized the employer-employee relationship between the first respondent and the deceased, making the petitioners eligible for compensation under Section 22 of the Act.

Regarding the compensation amount, the Court affirmed the Commissioner's decision, considering the deceased's monthly earnings, age, and applying a multiplier of 211.79 to determine a compensation amount of Rs. 4,23,580, along with 12% per annum interest.

The Court rejected the Insurance Company’s assertion that the deceased lacked a valid driving license, which could absolve them of liability. However, the Commissioner found no evidence explaining the driver's license status, stating that the first respondent had verified and confirmed the existence of a valid driving license before appointing the deceased as a driver.

While the law supports the Insurance Company in avoiding liability if the driver lacks a valid license, the Court emphasized the need for the Insurance Company to deposit the compensation and recover it from the owner. In this case, the Court noted no evidence proving the deceased's lack of a valid license and directed the Insurance Company to follow the principle of 'pay and recovery.'

Accordingly, the Court partially allowed the appeal, modifying the judgment to relieve the Insurance Company of liability but directing them to deposit the compensation amount for recovery from the owner of the lorry.

Cause Title: The New India Assurance v Smt. Sadhika (2024:KHC:1717)

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