CASE BRIEF: Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Co. Ltd v. Bheema & Anr.

Judgement dated: 8 November, 2021

Bench: Single judge Justice A Badharudeen, Kerela High court

Case details: If any person, whether as passenger or as owner of the vehicle, shares the seat of the driver of a three-wheeler goods carriage, the same violates insurance policy conditions.

On January 23, 2008, at approximately 14:30 hours, while the injured was travelling to the work site in a Bajaj Goods Autorickshaw bearing registration number KL-14G- 3792 while sitting near the driver and transporting construction goods, he was involved in an accident when the said Autorickshaw’s driver abruptly turned. The injured, who is the initial petitioner/1st respondent in this case, sought compensation of Rs.1,50,000/-.

The Kerala High Court has ruled that sharing the driver’s seat of a three-wheeler goods carriage, whether as a passenger or as the vehicle’s owner, violates insurance policy restrictions [Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Co. Ltd v. Bheema & Anr.].

The liability imposed on an insurance company by the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal (MACT) to compensate a person who was wounded while sharing the driver’s seat of a goods auto rickshaw was thus set aside by a single judge, Justice A Badharudeen. The Court ruled that no one, whether an owner or not, can be compensated if they were sharing the driver’s seat of a goods auto rickshaw at the time of an accident.

“Further, in a three-wheeled goods vehicle, the driver could not have shared his seat with anyone else.” Any other individual, whether a passenger or the vehicle’s owner, is not permitted to sit in the driver’s seat, and doing so is a violation of the policy’s terms. The appellant/contention insurer’s is that the wounded was accompanying the Goods Autorickshaw carrying construction goods to the work site after sharing the driver’s seat and was involved in an accident during this trip. “(The insurance) policy would show that the vehicle involved in the accident has a seating capacity of one person and that no one other than the driver is entitled to travel in the abovementioned Goods Autorickshaw,” the Court noted.

The order was made in response to an appeal filed by an insurance company that challenged the compensation sought by the first respondent, who was wounded while riding in a goods auto rickshaw with another person in the driver’s seat while the vehicle was delivering building materials.

The insurer had initially contacted the MACT seeking liability exclusion on the grounds that the wounded passenger was a free passenger in a goods vehicle.

The appeal was denied by the tribunal, which determined that the injured individual has the status of a person accompanying the items transported in the truck.

This caused the insurer to file a petition with the High Court, through lawyer Lal George, arguing that the MACT’s findings are unsupportable and seeking complete exoneration from the liabilities imposed on it.

The Supreme Court’s opinions on Section 147 of the Motor Vehicles Act were cited by the Court.

The court relied on the Supreme Court’s decision in National Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Baljit Kaur, which held that the term “any person” as defined by S.147(1)(b)(i) does not include any gratuitous passenger, and that the claimant would not be covered by the insurance policy if he was not travelling in the vehicle as the owner of the goods.

The Court concluded that no uninvited passenger can travel in a goods vehicle, and that even the vehicle owner cannot share the driver’s seat in a goods auto rickshaw.

As a result, it was concluded that the law no longer res integra on the issue that the claimant would not be covered by the insurance policy if he had not been travelling in the car as the owner of the goods.

Furthermore, the Court agreed with the petitioner and noted, “No other person, whether as a passenger or as the owner of the vehicle, is supposed to share the driver’s seat, and the said activity is a violation of the provision of the insurance contract.”

As a result, the Court decided that the appellant’s claim for full exoneration should be accepted, and the MACT’s decision should be overturned.

It further said that the insurance company is not obligated to pay the sum, and that the owner of the car bears the responsibility.

Source: Bar and Bench.

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