Nature Of Driver’s Employment Is A Contributory Factor For His Untimely Death: SC While Allowing Widow's Plea For Compensation
The Supreme Court allowed a Civil Appeal filed by a widow who lost her husband, a driver, during his employment. The Court restored the Commissioner's order granting the widow compensation under the Employee's Compensation Act 1923 (1923 Act).
The Court observed that prolonged driving was the contributory factor for the driver's untimely death and that this should be considered an accident that happened due to the nature of his job.
The bench headed by Justice Hima Kohli and also comprising Justice Rajesh Bindal observed, “This Court accepted the appeal filed by the dependents of the deceased and found that even if the death had not occurred on account of any accident but the driver was consistently driving the vehicle, there is every reason to assume that long spells of driving was a material contributory factor, if not the sole cause that accelerated his unexpected death at a young age. Such an untoward mishap can reasonably be described as an accident, only attributable to the nature of employment. In the aforesaid judgment, the employee was 45 years of age. It squarely covers the case of the appellants”.
Advocate Jinendra Jain appeared for the Appellant and Advocate V.S. Chopra appeared for the Respondent.
Sumer Singh worked as a driver for Kuldeep Bhatia. His job was to transport goods from Delhi to Baroda. However, on 15 September 2003, while passing through Goverdhan Vilas in Udaipur, Rajasthan, he suddenly felt unwell at around 12:30 a.m. He parked the vehicle and unfortunately passed away. He was immediately taken to the hospital, where he was declared dead. The post-mortem revealed that he was 41 years old at the time of his death. The Insurance Company (Respondent) challenged the compensation awarded by the Commissioner in the High Court, where their appeal was accepted, and the Commissioner's order was overturned. Aggrieved by the order, the Appellant has filed a Civil Appeal before the Court.
The Court noted the Insurance Company’s contention that the death of Sumer Singh was due to a disease that he was already suffering from and his death could not be considered during his employment. The High Court agreed with the Insurance Company, stating there was no connection between the deceased's death and his work.
“The arguments raised by the Insurance Company was that there is no material on record to suggest that the death of Sumer Singh occurred due to strain and stress during employment. In case, the deceased employee was already suffering from any existing disease and died on account of that, it cannot be said to be a case of death during the course of employment. The view of the High Court was that there is no relationship between the death and the work being done by the deceased. Hence, the order of the Commissioner was found to be unsustainable”, the Bench noted.
The Court noted that per the insurance policy, an extra premium was paid to cover two employees for any compensation payable under the 1923 Act. The Appellants applied with the Commissioner, stating that the deceased had a monthly salary of ₹3,091 (Rupees three thousand and ninety-one) and an allowance of ₹50 (Rupees fifty) per day. The Appellants, who were the deceased's widow and children, relied on him for support.
The Court relied on the case of Param Pal Singh Through Father v. National Insurance Co. & Anr., (2013) 3 SCC 409. The Court reiterated that long spells of driving, if not the sole factor, but was a contributory factor towards the unexpected and untimely death of the deceased at a young age.
Accordingly, the Court allowed the Appeal, set aside the impugned order and restored the order of the Commissioner.
Cause Title: Smt. Dariyao Kanwar & ors. v M/s United India Insurance Co. Ltd. & Anr. (2023 INSC 756)