Supreme Court restores compensation awarded by tribunal to accident victim

The Supreme Court has recently allowed an appeal by a road accident victim and restored the compensation awarded to him by the motor accidents tribunal, setting aside a judgment of the Allahabad High Court which had reduced the compensation amount.

The Division Bench of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice B.V. Nagarathna has heard the appeal filed by Satya Prakash Dwivedi, who was injured in a road accident. He has filed the appeal, being aggrieved by the award dated 28.01.2021 passed by the Allahabad High Court by which the High Court dismissed his appeal filed by him and reduced the compensation amount from Rs 5,42,633 to Rs 3,26,833 on the premise that the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal had arbitrarily construed functional disability at the rate of 50% without any evidence to that effect. The High Court deemed it appropriate to assess 20% functional disability inasmuch as it was nowhere mentioned that the disability was permanent in nature and was irreversible.

The facts are that the appellant-claimant while riding on his motorcycle met with an accident on 30.10.2002 when a truck came on the wrong side of the road and collided against the appellant-claimant, as a result of which he sustained grievous injuries. Although the appellant-claimant underwent treatment for about 470 days, he was rendered disabled. He was 32 years of age at the time of the accident and was running a canteen and said to be earning Rs 10,000 per month. Appellant filed a claim petition seeking compensation of Rs 17 lakh along with interest at the rate of 17% per annum from the date of filing of claim petition till the date of actual payment on account of grievous injuries sustained by him in the accident.

The Tribunal initially awarded compensation of Rs 6,03,000 along with 7% interest per annum from the date of judgment till actual payment vide its Award dated 30.10.2006. Being aggrieved by the said Award, the respondent insurance Company approached the High Court. By order dated 03.12.2015, the High Court set aside the Award dated 30.10.2006, except the finding recorded by the Tribunal that the accident had actually taken place, allowed the said appeal, and remanded the matter to the Tribunal for decision afresh in the light of the observations made in the said order.

On remand, the Tribunal passed the judgment and order dated 01.07.2017 awarding compensation of Rs 5,42,633 along with interest at the rate of 7% per annum from the date of filing the petition till the date of actual payment by accepting the permanent disability to the extent of 50% to that particular part of the body and taking into account his income as Rs 54,000 per annum. The Tribunal also applied a multiplier of 15 in calculating the future loss and also awarded compensation on other heads. Not being satisfied with the said Award, the appellant-claimant filed an appeal.

By the judgment dated 28.01.2021, the High Court construed functional disability at the rate of 20% rather than 50% as assessed by the Tribunal, assessed the age of claimant to be above 35 years, and by applying the multiplier of 15, computed the total compensation under the Head of loss of income at Rs 1,51,200. The High Court also awarded compensation under the other heads i.e. Rs 53,633 under the Head of medical treatment; Rs 25,000 under the head of mental and physical pain; Rs 36,000 under the Head of loss of income; Rs 18,000 under the head of nutritious diet; and Rs 5,000 as conveyance.

The High Court noted that the Tribunal had not awarded any compensation under the head of attendant charges and future treatment, it awarded compensation for a sum of Rs.18,000/- and Rs.20,000/- respectively under those heads, even though the High Court reduced the overall compensation from Rs.5,42,633/- to Rs.3,26,833 resulting in a total reduction of compensation to Rs.2,15,800/-. This was on account of construing functional disability at the rate of 20% rather than 50% as assessed by the Tribunal. The age of the claimant was also assessed as being above 35 years and taken the same in the bracket of 36 to 40 years. A multiplier of 15 was applied rather than 17 as applied by the Tribunal. Hence the appellant –claimant approached the Supreme Court.

Vipin Kumar, Counsel for the appellant-claimant, contended that the High Court was not right in reducing the quantum of compensation awarded to the appellant, in an appeal filed by him seeking enhancement of the same. The main grievance of the appellant is that the High Court ought not to have exercised power under Order XLI Rule 33 of the CPC to reduce the compensation awarded by the Tribunal in an appeal filed by the appellant-claimant. It was submitted that while on the one hand, the High Court reduced the quantum of compensation by reducing the percentage of functional disability from 50% to 20%, at the same time the High Court granted compensation under the heads of ‘attendant charges’ and ‘future medical treatment charges’ in a sum of Rs.18,000/- and Rs.20,000/- respectively.

The Court observed that upon a plain reading of Order XLI Rule 33 of the CPC, it reveals that the Appellate Court has the power to pass any decree or order which ought to have been passed, and to pass such other decree or order as the case may require. Notwithstanding that the appeal is against a part of the decree, this power may be exercised by the court in favour of all or any of the respondents although such respondent may not have filed any appeal or objection. However, the said power must be exercised with caution or circumspection, particularly, in the absence there being any cross objection or appeal filed by the respondents. Such a power has to be exercised in exceptional cases when its non-exercise will lead to difficulties in the adjustment of rights of the parties.

Order XLI Rule 33 of the CPC does not confer unrestricted rights to interfere with decrees which are not assailed merely because the appellate court does not agree with the opinion of the court appealed from. It is the duty of the appellate court to decide the appeal in accordance with law. The appellate court must apply its judicial mind to the evidence as a whole while deciding a case and a judgment on merits should not be lightly interfered with or reversed purely on technical grounds unless it has resulted in failure of justice, the Court further observed.

“Instead of considering that contention on merits, the High Court ignored the same and instead give weightage to the contentions of the respondent insurance Company which was to the effect that the computation of functional disability at the rate of 50% was on the higher side and the same had to be toned down and therefore, the power under Order XLI Rule 33 of CPC could be exercised to do complete justice to the parties. We find that the High Court was not right in its approach in the matter for the reason that the respondent – Insurance Company had not filed any appeal seeking reduction in the compensation amount awarded by the Tribunal and consequently, in the appeal filed by the injured appellant-claimant, the contention of the Insurance Company ought not have been allowed by ignoring the plea of the appellant-claimant seeking enhancement in the compensation. The appellant-claimant could not have been worse off than what had been granted to him by the Tribunal, in an appeal filed by him seeking enhancement of compensation.”

Therefore the Top Court is of the view that the High Court was not justified in exercising its power under Order XLI Rule 33 of the CPC in the instant case and reducing the compensation from Rs 5,42,633 as awarded by the Tribunal to Rs 3,26,833 i.e. a total reduction of Rs 2,15,800 in the compensation amount. At the same time, the High Court awarded an additional compensation under the heads of ‘attendant’ and ‘future treatment’ charges.

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