The Supreme Court on May 17, 2023, stayed the order of the Kerala High Court which had held that if a claim petition is filed before the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal, (MACT) beyond the period of six months, it cannot be dismissed in limine.

The Bench of Justice Krishna Murari and Justice Sanjay Kumar ordered, "In the facts and circumstances of the case, the effect and operation of the impugned order dated 23.01.2023 shall remain stayed." The Petitioner, Cholamandalam Ms General Insurance Company Ltd. assailed the order of the Kerala High Court which had held that the claim petitions filed before the MACT beyond the period of six months cannot be dismissed in limine.

Senior Advocate Joy Basu appeared for the Petitioner.

The Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal, North Paravur had rejected the Plaint (Original petition) of present Respondents under Order 7 of Rule 11 Civil Procedure Code. The MACT in its order had noted that since the original petition is not filed within 6 months from the date of the accident as required under Section 166(3) of the Motor Vehicles Act the same is liable to be rejected.

Challenging the order of the MACT, the Respondents before the Apex Court approached the Kerala High Court and contended that the order passed is wholly alien to settled principles as the MACT was required to frame the issues, for the question of limitation is a mixed question of fact and law. The present Respondents also added that Section 166(3) of the Motor Vehicle Act does not exclude the applicability of the Limitation Act 1963 and that the Claim Tribunal shall treat any report of accidents by police/investigation officer forwarded to it under Section 159 as an application for compensation under this Act.

Considering the submissions made and noting that almost every day the Court was confronted with such petitions, the Kerala High Court Bench of Justice Amit Rawal on January 23, 2023, set aside the impugned order and held that "Learned MACTs cannot without issuing notice to the opposite sides, dismiss the claim petition in limine. It would be a farcical exercise for this Court to refer back to the MACT for framing the issue for adjudication." (read report)

The High Court also held that the limitation to entertain the claim petition cannot be restricted to six (6) months and that the provisions of the Limitation Act would be applicable for entertaining the petitions for claiming compensation even beyond the period of six months, for, by taking into consideration, Rule 17 of Annexure XIII framed under Rule 150A of the Central Motor Vehicles Rules 1989.

Being aggrieved with the reasoning of the Kerala High Court order, the insurance company approached the Supreme Court. The Apex Court granted the stay and adjourned the matter for July 12, 2023. Similarly, the same Bench of the Supreme Court had on April 4, 2023, stayed the order passed by the Telangana High Court which had granted similar relief.

Cause Title: Cholamandalam Ms General Insurance Company Ltd. v. Shreelakshmi T & Ors. [SLP(C) No. 009152 - / 2023]

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