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Car-bus crash not ‘act of God’, says HC, junks tribunal order

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MUMBAI: Setting aside an almost two-decade old MATC order,

Bombay high court

recently held that a head-on collision between a car and an ST bus in 1997 was not an ‘

act of God

‘, directing the insurance company and MSRTC to pay compensation of over Rs 20 lakh each to the three remaining family members of the car owner, Rajesh Sejpal, who died during pendency of his appeal.

In its April 4 order, a division bench of Justices A S Chandurkar and Jitendra Jain said that an ‘act of God’ would mean something which is not in control of the human being, but in this case, there was no averment like foggy weather and the collision was in the centre of the road. “Hence, it cannot be a case of an act of God and the principle of elimination applied by the tribunal is erroneous,” the bench said. The Motor Accident Claims Tribunal had in 2005 by a “process of elimination” ruled out negligence by either driver and held the accident to be an ‘act of God’.
Admittedly, when two cars collide against each other, it cannot be said that neither or either of the drivers was negligent, the

HC

said, adding, “The negligence has to be on the part of one or both the drivers. Therefore, the reasoning adopted by the tribunal cannot be sustained.” The Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation bus had collided with the car carrying four people on Nov 14, 1997 at around 5.15pm. The car owner, Sejpal, was initially taken to Sion Hospital and later shifted to PD Hinduja Hospital where he was admitted for over five-and-a-half months. In 2000, he was admitted again for the injuries he suffered in the accident, but since his discharge from hospital in 1998, he remained bed-ridden till he passed away. Sejpal had sought Rs 10 crore as compensation before the tribunal, which rejected his claim in 2005; he then challenged it before the HC. The HC has now held that it was 50:50 negligence on part of both vehicle drivers.
The HC also noted that separate claims were filed by all four car occupants. In 2010, the claims tribunal had awarded compensation of Rs 1.5 lakh by holding that it was a case of composite negligence, but it was challenged by New India Assurance Co before the HC. which in 2013 upheld it as a case of composite negligence of drivers of both vehicles with 50 percent role each.

The court also noted that Sejpal’s gross salary was Rs 2 lakh/annum thus, looking at the trend of reduced tax rates by successive govts to calculate his compensation. The court also observed that Sejpal had suffered severe injuries which ultimately lead to his death after suffering for almost 4 to 5 years. The judges said,”…to call for strict evidence of these expenses on the facts of the present case would not be appropriate. Therefore, on proximate basis although the total of the said expenses is Rs 12,44,000, we propose to grant sum of Rs 10 lakh for it.”

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