Death of motorist due to tree fall is 'vehicle accident': Karnataka HC

Karnataka HC| Photo: Mathrubhumi

Bengaluru: The Karnataka High Court has held that the death of a motorist from a falling tree branch is still an accident "arising out of the use of motor vehicle", and therefore the insurance company is liable to pay compensation.

The judgement by Justice H P Sandesh came in an appeal filed by the United India Insurance Company, which had approached the HC against the order of a lower court that had awarded compensation of Rs 3.62 lakh to the family members of a motor vehicle accident victim.

The accident happened on July 2, 2006, and the lower court judgement was delivered in February 2011. The appeal was filed in the HC later that year and the judgement came recently.

Shamrao Patil, 44, died in an accident while he was riding a motorcycle on Salpewadi-Gargoti road in Kolhapur district of Maharashtra. A branch of a eucalyptus tree fell on his head which resulted in his death.

Challenging the award of compensation, the company claimed in the HC that the accident is because of a branch of eucalyptus tree falling on him and it was not an accident "arising out of the use of motor vehicle".

Sanjay S Katageri, advocate for the victim's family, pointed out the 2003 case of Sulochana vs KSRTC in which a banyan tree had fallen on a bus on the road resulting in the death of three people.

The court had then ruled that the deaths were "due to accident arising out of the use of motor vehicle", and therefore it came under Section 163A, Schedule II of the Motor Vehicles Act.

Other judgements where the courts have held that a person who is not the owner of the vehicle becomes a 'third-party', were also referred.

The HC, in its judgement, cited the case of Shivaji Dayanu Patil vs Vatschala Uttam More where a petrol tanker had overturned after a collision and the public had gathered to collect petrol. An explosion resulted in these people getting injured. The Supreme Court had held that this was still a vehicle accident and the insurance company had to pay them compensation.

In another case of Rita Devi vs New India Assurance, an auto-rickshaw driver, who was murdered by the passengers who wanted to steal his vehicle, was also held to be an accident victim arising out of use of motor vehicle for the sake of awarding compensation.

In the present case, the HC also said that though the bike was owned by the daughter of the victim, he had stepped into the shoes of the owner by borrowing it to commute. It also held that negligence cannot be held as a ground for not awarding compensation. It held that the insurance company was thus liable to pay compensation.

However, the HC also noted that since personal accident cover was charged for 'owner-cum-driver' it was liable only to pay the personal accident (PA) cover of Rs 1 lakh.

In the insurance, there was a specific Rs 50 collected as personal accident cover. This entitled payment of compensation of Rs 1 lakh and not the compensation of Rs 3.62 lakh which the lower court had ordered, the HC said. PTI

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