corporate laws – insurance laws- motor accident claims = Driving licence not valid at the time of accident -expired before the accident and was not renewed within the prescribed period = the insured did not hold a valid driving licence at the time of the accident. The Tribunal absolved the insurer for that reason. The insurer was, however, directed to pay the compensation awarded to the claimant and to recover it from the owner of the offending motor cycle. – Section 15 of the Act does not empower the authorities to reject an application for renewal only on the ground that there is a break in validity or tenure of the driving licence has 5 lapsed, as in the meantime the provisions for disqualification of the driver contained in Sections 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24 will not be attracted, would indisputably confer a right upon the person to get his driving licence renewed. In that view of the matter, he cannot be said to be delicensed and the same shall remain valid for a period of thirty days after its expiry.” The following conclusion has been recorded in summation in the judgment:: “(iii) The breach of policy condition e.g. disqualification of the driver or invalid driving licence of the driver, as contained in sub-section (2)(a)(ii) of Section 149, has to be proved to have been committed by the insured for avoiding liability by the insurer. Mere absence, fake or invalid driving licence or disqualification of the driver for driving at the relevant time, are not in themselves defences available to the insurer against either the insured or the third parties. To avoid its liability towards the insured, the insurer has to prove that the insured was guilty of negligence and failed to exercise reasonable care in the matter of fulfilling the condition of the policy regarding use of vehicles by a duly licensed driver or one who was not disqualified to drive at the relevant time. (iv) Insurance companies, however, with a view to avoid their liability must not only establish the available defence(s) raised in the said proceedings but must also establish “breach” on the part of the owner of the vehicle; the burden of proof wherefor would be on them. (v) The court cannot lay down any criteria as to how the said burden would be discharged, inasmuch as the same would depend upon the facts and circumstances of each case. (vi) Even where the insurer is able to prove breach on the part of the insured concerning the policy condition regarding holding of a valid licence by the driver or his qualification to drive during the relevant period, the insurer would not be allowed to avoid its liability towards the insured unless the said breach or breaches on the condition of driving licence is/are so fundamental as are found to have contributed to the cause of the accident.The Tribunals in interpreting the policy conditions would apply “the rule of main purpose” and the concept of “fundamental breach” to allow defences available to the insurer under Section 149(2) of the Act. (vii) The question, as to whether the owner has taken reasonable care to find out as to whether the driving licence produced by the driver (a fake one or otherwise), does not 6 fulfil the requirements of law or not will have to be determined in each case”. – the owner did not depose in evidence and stayed away from the witness box. He produced a licence which was found to be fake. Another licence which he sought to produce had already expired before the accident and was not renewed within the prescribed period. It was renewed well after two years had expired. The appellant as owner had evidently failed to take reasonable care (proposition (vii) of Swaran Singh) since he could not have been unmindful of facts which were within his knowledge. In the circumstances, the direction by the Tribunal, confirmed by the High Court, to pay and recover cannot be faulted.

1

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

CIVIL APPEAL NO 2103 OF 2018

(Arising out of SLP (C ) No 22630 of 2015)

SINGH RAM ..Appellant

VERSUS

NIRMALA AND ORS ..Respondents

J U D G M E N T

Dr D Y CHANDRACHUD, J

1 Delay condoned.

2 In a claim for compensation under Section 166 of the Motor Vehicles Act

1988, the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal (‘the Tribunal’), Yamunanagar at

Jagadhri found that the insured did not hold a valid driving licence at the time

of the accident. The Tribunal absolved the insurer for that reason. The insurer

was, however, directed to pay the compensation awarded to the claimant and

to recover it from the owner of the offending motor cycle. The High Court dealt

with three appeals: one filed by the claimant seeking enhancement of

compensation, a second by the insurance company and the third by the owner

REPORTABLE

2

cum driver of the offending vehicle. The High Court held that in view of the

decision of this Court in National Insurance Co. Ltd. v Swaran Singh1

, the

Tribunal was correct in directing the insurer to pay the compensation and to

recover it from the owner-cum-driver of the offending vehicle. The present

appeal has been filed by the owner and driver. The only point which has been

urged in support of the appeal is that the Tribunal and the High Court erred in

fastening the liability on him by granting a right of recovery to the insurer.

3 The accident took place on 22 March 2010. The deceased Sunil Kumar

was riding a motor cycle bearing Registration No HR-04B-4673. The Tribunal

found that the accident was caused as a result of the rash and negligent act of

the appellant. This finding of fact has not been disturbed by the High Court.

The deceased was employed as a sweeper in Haryana Roadways and was

engaged on a salary of Rs 11,928 per month. The Tribunal allowed future

prospects of 50%, the deceased being just short of 36 years of age. After

deducting an amount representing one-fourth of the earnings for personal

expenses, the Tribunal applied a multiplier of 15. The total compensation was

computed at Rs 24,15,420 to which the Tribunal added an amount of Rs 20,000

under conventional heads. However, the Tribunal held that the financial

assistance which the heirs of the deceased would receive over a period of 12

years from the employee (amounting to Rs 16,16,112) would have to be

deducted from the compensation. After making the deduction, the Tribunal

1

(2004) 3 SCC 297

3

awarded an amount of Rs. 8,19,500 together with interest at 7.5 per cent per

annum from the date of the claim petition. The High Court has enhanced the

compensation to Rs 16,04,912.

4 Special Leave Petition (C ) No 7737 of 2015 filed by the claimant, which

was connected to this appeal, has been dismissed on 8 February 2018.

5 In the present appeal by the owner cum driver of the offending motor

cycle, the submission is that in view of the decision of a Bench of three learned

Judges of this Court in Swaran Singh (supra), the insurer ought not to have

been absolved. Hence the direction to the insurer to pay and recover the

compensation from the appellant should, it has been urged, be modified to

fasten a joint and several liability on the insurer.

6 Before we advert to the decision in Swaran Singh (supra) a brief

reference to the facts as they emerge from the decision of the Tribunal is

necessary. Initially before the Tribunal the appellant produced a driving licence

issued by the Motor Vehicles Department, Agra (Exh.R-1). The driving licence

was found to be fake. The statement of the Senior Assistant in the office of the

RTO, Agra was that Exh.R-1 had not been issued by the office. The Tribunal

noted that the witness had proved the report (Exh.R-2) issued by the

department and concluded that the licence was fake. Faced with this situation,

the appellant attempted to prove that he held a valid driving licence issued by

4

the licencing authority at Jagadhri to drive a motor cycle. The Tribunal rejected

the application filed by the appellant for producing additional evidence. The

Tribunal noted that even otherwise, the licence which was issued by the

licencing authority, Jagadhri for a tractor and car was valid only until 29 August

2009. The accident took place on 22 March 2010. The licence was renewed

on 28 November 2011 more than two years after it had expired. On these facts,

the Tribunal observed that on the date of the accident, the appellant was not

holding a valid and effective driving licence nor was there any evidence to

indicate that the licence was sought to be renewed as required in law, within 30

days of its expiry. The Tribunal also observed that the appellant did not hold a

valid licence to drive a motor cycle. On these grounds, the insurer was

absolved. The High Court has confirmed the direction of the Tribunal to pay

and recover.

7 In Swaran Singh (supra), this Court held that the holder of a driving

licence has a period of thirty days on its expiry, to renew it:

“45. Thus, a person whose licence is ordinarily renewed in

terms of the Motor Vehicles Act and the Rules framed

thereunder, despite the fact that during the interregnum

period, namely, when the accident took place and the date

of expiry of the licence, he did not have a valid licence, he

could during the prescribed period apply for renewal thereof

and could obtain the same automatically without undergoing

any further test or without having been declared unqualified

therefor. Proviso appended to Section 14 in unequivocal

terms states that the licence remains valid for a period of

thirty days from the day of its expiry.

46. Section 15 of the Act does not empower the authorities

to reject an application for renewal only on the ground that

there is a break in validity or tenure of the driving licence has 

5

lapsed, as in the meantime the provisions for disqualification

of the driver contained in Sections 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24

will not be attracted, would indisputably confer a right upon

the person to get his driving licence renewed. In that view of

the matter, he cannot be said to be delicensed and the same

shall remain valid for a period of thirty days after its expiry.”

The following conclusion has been recorded in summation in the judgment::

“(iii) The breach of policy condition e.g. disqualification of

the driver or invalid driving licence of the driver, as contained

in sub-section (2)(a)(ii) of Section 149, has to be proved to

have been committed by the insured for avoiding liability by

the insurer. Mere absence, fake or invalid driving licence or

disqualification of the driver for driving at the relevant time,

are not in themselves defences available to the insurer

against either the insured or the third parties. To avoid its

liability towards the insured, the insurer has to prove that the

insured was guilty of negligence and failed to exercise

reasonable care in the matter of fulfilling the condition of the

policy regarding use of vehicles by a duly licensed driver or

one who was not disqualified to drive at the relevant time.

(iv) Insurance companies, however, with a view to avoid

their liability must not only establish the available defence(s)

raised in the said proceedings but must also establish

“breach” on the part of the owner of the vehicle; the burden

of proof wherefor would be on them.

(v) The court cannot lay down any criteria as to how the

said burden would be discharged, inasmuch as the same

would depend upon the facts and circumstances of each

case.

(vi) Even where the insurer is able to prove breach on the

part of the insured concerning the policy condition regarding

holding of a valid licence by the driver or his qualification to

drive during the relevant period, the insurer would not be

allowed to avoid its liability towards the insured unless the

said breach or breaches on the condition of driving licence

is/are so fundamental as are found to have contributed to

the cause of the accident. The Tribunals in interpreting the

policy conditions would apply “the rule of main purpose” and

the concept of “fundamental breach” to allow defences

available to the insurer under Section 149(2) of the Act.

(vii) The question, as to whether the owner has taken

reasonable care to find out as to whether the driving licence

produced by the driver (a fake one or otherwise), does not 

6

fulfil the requirements of law or not will have to be

determined in each case”.

8 In the present case it is necessary to note, as observed by the Tribunal,

that the owner did not depose in evidence and stayed away from the witness

box. He produced a licence which was found to be fake. Another licence which

he sought to produce had already expired before the accident and was not

renewed within the prescribed period. It was renewed well after two years had

expired. The appellant as owner had evidently failed to take reasonable care

(proposition (vii) of Swaran Singh) since he could not have been unmindful of

facts which were within his knowledge.

In the circumstances, the direction by the Tribunal, confirmed by the High

Court, to pay and recover cannot be faulted. The appeal is, accordingly,

dismissed. There shall be no order as to costs.

…………………………………….CJI

[DIPAK MISRA]

…………………………………….J

[A M KHANWILKAR]

…………………………………….J

[Dr D Y CHANDRACHUD]

New Delhi;

March 06, 2018