Supreme Court: Standard of proof in Motor Accident Claims is one of Preponderance of probabilities

Approach of Art.136 Cannot Be Adopted While Deciding Petitions by The High Court Under Art.227: SC

An appeal was filed before the Supreme Court against Rajasthan High Court judgement rejecting the claim petition by setting aside the tribunal order and allowing it.

Here in this, the car was collided with a truck in a very high speed which results in a death of Sandeep Sharma who was travelling with Sanjeev Kapoor, driver & owner of the car at the time of accident. The Sharma’s dependents has filed a claim petition for rash & negligent driving of Sanjeev Kapoor. The Tribunal has allowed the claim upon the statement of eyewitness Ritesh Pandey.

Hence, the appeal was filed before the Rajasthan High Court and the Court has dismissed the claim petition and set aside the Tribunal’s Award. Also, the High Court remarked that;

1. The eye-witness, Ritesh Pandey (AW3) had failed to report the accident to the jurisdictional police and he was apparently introduced by the claimants only to seek compensation.

2. The FIR had been lodged by the owner-cum-driver, Sanjeev Kapoor, who would not have done so had he been at fault or driving rashly.

3. the assertion of Ritish Pandey (AW3) that he took the injured to hospital was not proved from the record of the Government Hospital, Ghazipur which revealed that Sandeep Sharma was brought to the hospital by Sub-Inspector Shah Mohammed.

Thereupon, the Sharma’s dependants moved to Supreme Court and the apex court has observed that the standard of proof in Motor Accident Claim cases is one of preponderance of probabilities, rather than beyond reasonable doubt.

While allowing the appeal, the Two-Judge bench of Justice Surya Kant & Justice Anirudha Bose has observed that “One needs to be mindful that the approach and role of Courts while examining evidence in accident claim cases ought not to be to find fault with non-examination of some best eye-witnesses, as may happen in a criminal trial; but, instead should be only to analyse the material placed on record by the parties to ascertain whether the claimant’s version is more likely that not true.”

Considering the Evidence on record, the bench emphasized that the failure of the respondents to cross examine the solitary eyewitness or confront him with their version, despite adequate opportunity, must lead to an inference of tacit admission on their part.

“…………….if owner-cum-driver were setting up a defense plea that the accident was result of not his but the truck driver’s carelessness or rashness, then the onus was on him to step into the witness box and explain as to how the accident had taken place. The fact that Sanjeev Kapoor chose not to depose in support of what he has pleaded in his written statement, further suggests that he was himself at fault. The High Court, therefore, ought not to have shifted the burden of proof;” the bench remarked.