Third-Party Insurance deemed to be transferred along with effective control over vehicle in a Hire Agreement: SC
Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation: Appellant(s) Vs. National Insurance Co. Ltd. & Others: Respondent(s)
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPEAL NOS. 18490-18491 OF 2017
Order date: 14th July 2021
Held That (Motor Vehicles Act, 1988): Third-Party Insurance deemed to be transferred along with effective control over the vehicle in a Hire Agreement.
When a transport corporation hires a motor vehicle for use from its registered owner, the third-party insurance coverage will also be deemed to be transferred along with the vehicle, reiterated the Supreme Court in a recent decision. The person who is having the effective control and command of the vehicle will be regarded as the ‘owner’. Therefore, along with the vehicle it must be deemed that the existing insurance policy also remains transferred for the period of hire as agreed.
Based on this principle, which was settled in the 2011 precedent Uttar Pradesh State Road Corporation v. Kulsum & Ors, the Supreme Court overturned a judgment of the Allahabad High Court.
FACTS TO BE DECIDED; if an insured vehicle is plying under an agreement with the Corporation on the route as per permit granted in favour of the Corporation and in case of any accident during that period, whether the Insurance Company would be liable to pay compensation or would it be the responsibility of the corporation or the owner.
BACKGROUND The Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (Corporation) hired a bus which met with a fatal accident resulting in the death of one person. The legal heirs of the deceased raised a claim petition before the Motor Accident Claim Tribunal, Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh. The Corporation filed its written statement bringing on record the contract entered into between the Corporation and the bus owner as well as the factum of insurance of the bus with the Insurance Company.
The Insurance Company filed its response admitting the existence of the Insurance Policy with respect to the said bus during the relevant period. The Tribunal fastened the liability to the insurance company and directed the payment of compensation of Rs. 1,82,000/- with interest @6% p.a. to the claimant.
DECISION OF ALLAHABAD HIGH COURT;
The Insurance Company preferred an appeal before the Allahabad High Court mainly on the ground that it is not liable to pay the compensation as awarded by the Tribunal as the Corporation was operating the said bus when the accident took place. It argued that it was in fact the Corporation who is liable to satisfy the Award.
The Allahabad High Court held that the Insurance Companies are not liable to pay compensation to the third parties in the event the buses were operated under the control of the Corporation.
After that, the Corporation filed an appeal in the Supreme Court.
FINDINGS; The Supreme Court overturned the judgment of the Allahabad High Court, fastening liability on the Corporation. It heavily relied on its earlier decision in Uttar Pradesh State Road Corporation v. Kulsum & Ors (2011), whereby it was held that effective control and command is the real test of ownership. Thereby under a hire agreement, the insurance policy is deemed to be transferred along with the vehicle.
It had remarked, If the Corporation had become the owner even for the specific period and the vehicle having been insured at the instance of the original owner, it will be deemed that the vehicle was transferred along with the Insurance Policy in existence to the Corporation and thus Insurance Company would not be able to escape its liability to pay the amount of compensation”.
The Supreme Court also remarked in its’ 2011 judgment that the compulsory insurance of the vehicle is meant to benefit Third Parties. The owner’s liability to have compulsory insurance is only regarding Third Party and not to the property.
Therefore, once the vehicle is insured, the owner and any other person can use the vehicle with the owner’s consent.
SECTION 146 of the Act does not provide that any person who uses the vehicle independently should take a separate insurance policy.
|SECTION 146 -Necessity for insurance against third-party risk. —
(1) No person shall use, except as a passenger, or cause or allow any other person to use, a motor vehicle in a public place, unless there is in force in relation to the use of the vehicle by that person or that other person, as the case may be, a policy of insurance complying with the requirements of this Chapter:
Provided that in the case of a vehicle carrying, or meant to carry, dangerous or hazardous goods, there shall also be a policy of insurance under the Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991 (6 of 1991).
Explanation. —A person driving a motor vehicle merely as a paid employee, while there is in force in relation to the use of the vehicle no such policy as is required by this sub-section, shall not be deemed to act in contravention of the sub-section unless he knows or has reason to believe that there is no such policy in force.
(2) Sub-section (1) shall not apply to any vehicle owned by the Central Government or a State Government and used for Government purposes unconnected with any commercial enterprise.
(3) The appropriate Government may, by order, exempt from the operation of sub-section (1) any vehicle owned by any of the following authorities, namely:—
(a) the Central Government or a State Government, if the vehicle is used for Government purposes connected with any commercial enterprise;
(b) any local authority;
(c) any State transport undertaking:
Provided that no such order shall be made in relation to any such authority unless a fund has been established and is maintained by that authority in accordance with the rules made in that behalf under this Act for meeting any liability arising out of the use of any vehicle of that authority which that authority or any person in its employment may incur to third parties.
Explanation. —For the purposes of this sub-section, “appropriate Government” means the Central Government or a State Government, as the case may be, and—
(i) in relation to any corporation or company owned by the Central Government or any State Government, means the Central Government or that State Government;
(ii) in relation to any corporation or company owned by the Central Government and one or more State Governments, means the Central Government;
(iii) in relation to any other State transport undertaking or any local authority, means that Government which has control over that undertaking or authority.
The purpose of compulsory insurance in the Act has been enacted with an object to advance social justice, the Court had observed.
Therefore, relying on the 2011 judgement, the Supreme Court, in the instant matter, affixed the liability on the Insurance Company. It directed the Insurance Company to deposit Rs.1,82,000/-plus interest on the above compensation amount at the rate of 6% per annum from the date of filing of the claim petition till the date of deposit , in settlement of award by the tribunal.
THE APEX COURT SAID THAT:
“through the definition of “vicarious liability” it can be inferred that the person supervising the driver is liable to pay the compensation to the victim. During such time, however, it will be deemed that that vehicle was transferred along with the insurance policy, even if it were insured at the instance of the original owner. Thus, the Insurance Company would not be able to escape its liability to pay the amount of compensation”.
CONCLUSION: from above judgement of the apex court , it is clear that that If you have bought a second-hand vehicle or in case of (Hire Purchase Agreement as discussed above ) and got the vehicle registered in your name but have not made any change in the insurance policy, then you will not get the claim if the vehicle meets with an accident. If the vehicle meets with an accident, then the claim for the damage caused to the vehicle i.e. the own damage component of the insurance cover will neither be given to the new owner of the vehicle nor to the person whose name is there is the insurance policy that is the seller of the vehicle. In case of third party injured due to accident , the insurance policy is deemed to be transferred with transfer of control of the vehicle and if due to accident third party is injured then insurance company providing insurance cover to the vehicle at the time of transfer of control of vehicle will be liable to the third party and not to the new owner of the vehicle.
DISCLAIMER above case law is only for information and knowledge of readers. The vies expressed here are personal views of the author and same should not be considered as professional advice. In case of necessity do consult with insurance consultants.