Certain guesswork also is permissible in determining quantum of compensation, says judge

Married brothers and sisters of a road accident victim are entitled to claim compensation under Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, if the victim happened to be a bachelor or spinster whose parents were not alive, the Madras High Court has held in a judgement reserved at the Principal Seat in Chennai and delivered in the Madurai Bench.

Justice M. Venugopal gave the ruling while dismissing an appeal filed by an insurance company challenging a compensation of Rs. 5.67 lakh awarded by a Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal in Vellore on August 1, 2011 to two married brothers and a sister of a 40-year-old automobile consultant, hit by a lorry while crossing the Chennai-Bangalore National Highway near Sathuvachari bus stop on November 17, 2007.

The judge pointed out that Section 1-A of Fatal Accidents Act, 1855, states that a suit for compensation could be filed only by the wife, husband, parents and children of an accident victim. However, Section 110-A of the Motor Vehicles Act states that applications seeking compensation could be filed by victim’s legal representatives though it does not specifically define the term ‘legal representatives.’

Various High Courts had taken divergent views on the issue of including brothers and sisters of the victim under the ambit of legal representatives. However, the Supreme Court had held that it was unfair to deny compensation to siblings as it was common in Indian families for brothers, sisters, nephews, and sometimes even foster children, to live together and depend on a sole breadwinner.

Taking a cue from the apex court judgement, Mr. Justice Venugopal said that the definition of ‘legal representative’ was inclusive in character and its scope wide. “It is not limited to legal heirs only. It also specifies an individual who may or may not be an heir if he or she is competent to inherit the property of the deceased, but should represent the estate of the deceased person,” he added.

The judge also pointed out that the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, lists two classes of legal heirs. While class-I dealt with relations such as son, daughter and mother, class-II contained siblings. Under the Act, a sister had been ranked equally with a brother. Therefore, in the present case, the sister and two brothers of the accident victim were entitled to claim compensation for his death.

Though the claimants had sought Rs.30 lakh as compensation by stating that the income of the victim was around Rs. 30,000 a month before his death, the judge rejected this quantum of claim for want of income proof. He said that the tribunal had rightly arrived at the compensation of Rs.5.67 lakh by determining a notional income of Rs. 4,500 a month.

“It is an axiomatic principle in law that while awarding a just compensation, neither sentiments nor emotions play an operative role. In fixing the quantum of compensation to be awarded to the kith and kin of the deceased, there is likelihood of margin of error. Certain guesswork is permissible with regard to calculation of amount and to a certain extent the exercising of conjecture is permissible,” the judge said.