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'Tribunal can enhance accident compensation amount'

By Our Legal Correspondent

NEW DELHI DEC. 6. The Supreme Court has held that "there are no fetters on the power" of the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal to award compensation in excess of the amount claimed in the application.

Pronouncing the order, a three-Judge Bench, comprising Justice M.B. Shah, Justice B.P. Singh and Justice H.K. Sema, awarded Rs. one lakh additional compensation to a poor farmer, who lost his leg when his bullock cart met with an accident in 1985, to meet his recurring medical expenses.

Rejecting the contention of the insurance company that compensation amount could not be enhanced over and above what was claimed, the Bench observed that "there is no restriction under the Motor Vehicles Act that compensation could be awarded only up to the amount claimed by the claimant".

"In appropriate cases where from the evidence brought on record if the Tribunal considers that claimant is entitled to get more compensation than claimed, the Tribunal may pass such award.

Only embargo is it should be `just' compensation, neither arbitrary, fanciful nor unjustifiable from the evidence," the Bench said.

The farmer, Nagappa of Chitradurga in Karnataka, was awarded Rs. 30,000 by the tribunal and the High Court enhanced it to Rs. one lakh.

During the pendency of the appeal in the Supreme Court, he sought a claim of Rs. 5 lakhs on the ground that he had to undergo recurring medical expenses, including replacement of artificial leg once in two years.

Partly allowing the appeal, the Bench awarded an additional compensation of Rs. one lakh and said this amount should be deposited by the insurance company with the trial court, which should invest it on long-term fixed deposit in the nearest nationalised bank, where the appellant was residing so that he could use the interest for his medical expenses.

The Bench made it clear that once the final award was given by the tribunal, it would not be open to it to modify the previous award.

The only alternative was that at the time of passing of final award, the tribunal should consider such eventuality of recurring medical expenses and fix compensation accordingly.

The Bench felt that no one could suggest that it was improper to take into account the expenditure genuinely and reasonably required to be incurred for future medical expenses, which could be determined on the basis of fair guess-work after taking into account the increase in the cost of medical treatment.

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