Determining incalculable sum in calculable terms of money is a challenge: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has asked Tribunals and High Courts to award reasonable and just compensation to victims of motor accidents. However, the determination of compensation, if it is a case of grievous injury, cannot be a bonanza, the court said.

“Despite many a pronouncement, it still remains a challenging situation [for Tribunals and appellate courts] warranting a sensitive as well as dispassionate exercise [of] how to determine the incalculable sum in calculable terms of money in cases of personal injuries. In such assessment, neither sentiments nor emotions have any role. There cannot be actual compensation for the anguish of the heart or for mental tribulations,” said a Bench of Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra, while partly allowing an appeal.

“A money award can be calculated so as to make good a financial loss. But money cannot renew a physical frame that has been battered and shattered. All that judges and courts can do is to award sums which must be regarded as reasonable compensation. In the process, there must be the endeavour to secure some uniformity in the general method of approach. An adjudicating authority, while determining the quantum, has to keep in view the sufferings of the injured person which would include his inability to lead a full life, his incapacity to enjoy normal amenities which he would have enjoyed but for the injuries and his ability to earn as much as he used to earn or could have earned.”

The Bench said: “In the case of a non-earning member of a family who has sustained permanent disability due to amputation of a leg or hand, it cannot be construed that no amount needs to be granted for permanent disability. It cannot be disputed that apart from the fact that the permanent disability affects the earning capacity of the person, one has to forgo other personal comforts and even for normal avocation he has to depend on others.”

In the instant case, K. Suresh sustained multiple fractures and grievous injury in an accident involving an autorickshaw. The Motor Accident Claims Tribunal in Chennai awarded Rs. 25 lakh as compensation but the Madras High Court reduced it to Rs. 9, 78,000. The appeal is directed against this award.

The Supreme Court accepted counsel Vipin Nair’s contention that the High Court had erroneously held that there could not be grant of compensation under two heads, namely “permanent disability” and “loss of earning power” and reduced the compensation.

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