Approach of Supreme Court in Accident Cases

In the recent times, a new dimension in the accident cases jurisprudence propounded by the Supreme Court has been seen as the Court is of the opinion that the rise in number of accident cases is more so because of the inadequacies of the criminal or penal system in the country. The Apex Court has time and again added on to this jurisprudence as accident does not have a fixed definition under any of the laws but can be taken as the product of rashness and negligence under the provision of IPC which talks about accidents (Section 304 A). In accident cases, therefore, the law enforcement, investigative agencies and judicial bodies face the problem of lack of provisions for accident cases. This is the reason why the Apex Court has propounded decisions time and again in respect of accident cases and some of them will be analysed below.

In the case of State of Punjab v. Saurabh Bakshi, the Hon’ble Court had expressed displeasure over the lack of adequate laws. They stated in their judgment as to how when a motor accident takes place, the plight of the injured and the dead, disturbs the surroundings and the society and a feeling of fear creeps in.  The impact of such incidents has grave impacts especially in cases of rash and negligent driving, drunk driving or even adventurous driving by some. This gravity however is not reflected in the motor vehicles accident cases when it comes to compensation. Compensation is taken as a substitute to adequate sentence or punishment in motor accidents cases while in general sense, i.e. under the Code of Criminal Procedure, payment of compensation in no way is a way to substitute the punishments as prescribed for the death or injury that has been caused. The bench therefore put forth the opinion that the motor vehicles laws would not be enforced if there is no feeling of fear to support them and hence the absurd disparity in motor accident cases and other injury causing cases should be removed by the legislature.

Another important case where we can see that the Supreme Court has come forth and try to compound on motor accidents jurisprudence is that of Rajaseekaran v. UOI and Others. In this case, the court noted that motor vehicles accidents are one of the biggest challenges to human existence that exist at present and there is an immediate need for intervention. The bench went on to appoint a committee for monitoring the measures taken by governments at both centre and state level for controlling accidents and the implementation of such measures and the laws relating to road safety.

Another important parameter in respect of such cases was put forth in Ravi Kapur v. State of Rajasthan, which has been taken into consideration with respect of  motor vehicles accident cases is that of “reasonable care” and “res ipsa loquitor”. The parameter of reasonable care has been used to decide the element of contributory negligence or mere negligence in such cases. The second, ‘res ipsa loquitor’ where the facts are taken as it is, that is in cases where the most probable explanation for the accident seems to be the negligence of the party in question or where prima facie evidence of the accident hints towards negligence. It also proves to be beneficial in cases where the occurrence of the accident is proved by the claimant but the manner of occurrence is not proved and also in cases where no such direct evidence is available.

In the case of Sanjeev Nanda, a new approach has been taken by the Supreme Court where the Court has brought in the angle of community service as a measure for reformation and rehabilitation. This angle has been brought in taking a cue from foreign jurisdictions where convicts voluntarily come forward and serve the community after conviction. However in no sense, can this community service can be taken as a substitute for the punishment for the crime he has committed against the society. It is more of a reformative mechanism where the society benefits from his service and on the same plane, it brings in a sense of solace in the accused especially in cases like motor vehicles accidents where action or inaction lead to loss of lives. Taking this approach into account, in this case, the accused was not required to serve more jail time but contribute towards the society. It was also stated that such an approach would serve as better compensation in cases where the owners or drivers cannot be traced.

Another important scenario that is seen in any motor vehicles accident case is that lack of availability of first aid to the victims which could have saved their lives or helped them recover earlier. There are more onlookers than active helpers in an accident scene which costs a lot of lives. The major reason why this cold and inhumane approach exists among the general public is the harassment that the public or good Samaritans face at the hands of the police. A man with good intentions is viewed with suspect and caused unnecessary trouble which is why people shy away from helping. Even in respect of hospital authorities, the treatment of the patients doesn’t begin unless and until a police case has been registered and that in itself wastes a lot of precious time which might be crucial in deciding the question of life and death of the person. The Supreme Court paid due attention to this issue in the Public Interest Litigation filed by the NGO Save Life Foundation in March 2016, where guidelines had been issued for encouraging people to help road accidents victims and avoid unnecessary harassment by the police. Apart from that, even the hospitals were directed to start the treatment process of a road accident victim without waiting for procedural and police formalities.

Some other aspects of motor vehicles accident cases where dealt in cases that of Malti Sardar vs. National Insurance Company Limited where the Supreme Court has reiterated its position in respect of the provisions of territorial jurisdiction as under the Mantoo Sarkar vs. Oriental Insurance Company Limited by stating that there would be no bar for claim where the insurance company has a place of business and M/S Purohit and Co. v. Khantobee, where the Supreme Court has stated that the lack of limitation period in motor vehicles claim cases has to be perused carefully and the test of reasonability should be applied while allowing extensions or delays in filing cases.

Hence, in conclusion, it can be very well seen from the above mentioned cases that how the Supreme Court has started to evolve a new jurisprudence in respect of accident cases in the recent times which ranges from issues like limitation period to social work and prevention of harassment of good Samaritans.

Authored By:

Dhriti Dhairya,

LexisNexis India’s Student Ambassador

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