SC: Courts should not adopt a stereotypical or myopic approach while adjudging compensation claims under Motor Vehicle Act

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, on 17th September 2020, in the matter of Pappu Deo Yadav v. Naresh Kumar and Ors. held that Courts should not adopt a stereotypical or myopic approach, but instead, view the matter taking into account the realities of life, both in the assessment of the extent of disabilities, and compensation under various heads. The loss of a limb (a leg or arm) and its severity on that account is to be judged in relation to the profession, vocation or business of the victim; there cannot be a blind arithmetic formula for ready application. If courts nit-pick and award niggardly amounts oblivious of these circumstances, there is resultant affront to the injured victim.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that:

“Just compensation” should include all elements that would go to place the victim in as near a position as she or he was in, before the occurrence of the accident. Whilst no amount of money or other material compensation can erase the trauma, pain and suffering that a victim undergoes after a serious accident, (or replace the loss of a loved one), monetary compensation is the manner known to law, whereby society assures some measure of restitution to those who survive, and the victims who have to face their lives. (Para 8)

Whilst it is true that assessment of injury of one limb or to one part may not entail permanent injury to the whole body, the inquiry which the court has to conduct is the resultant loss which the injury entails to the earning or income generating capacity of the claimant. Thus, loss of one leg to someone carrying on a vocation such as driving or something that entails walking or constant mobility, results in severe income generating impairment or its extinguishment altogether. Likewise, for one involved in a job like a carpenter or hairdresser, or machinist, and an experienced one at that, loss of an arm, (more so a functional arm) leads to near extinction of income generation. If the age of the victim is beyond 40, the scope of rehabilitation too diminishes. These individual factors are of crucial importance which are to be borne in mind while determining the extent of permanent disablement, for the purpose of assessment of loss of earning capacity. (Para 13)

Courts should not adopt a stereotypical or myopic approach, but instead, view the matter taking into account the realities of life, both in the assessment of the extent of disabilities, and compensation under various heads. (Para 20)

The loss of a limb (a leg or arm) and its severity on that account is to be judged in relation to the profession, vocation or business of the victim; there cannot be a blind arithmetic formula for ready application. (Para 20)

Courts should be mindful that a serious injury not only permanently imposes physical limitations and disabilities but too often inflicts deep mental and emotional scars upon the victim. The attendant trauma of the victim’s having to live in a world entirely different from the one she or he is born into, as an invalid, and with degrees of dependence on others, robbed of complete personal choice or autonomy, should forever be in the judge’s mind, whenever tasked to adjudge compensation claims. Severe limitations inflicted due to such injuries undermine the dignity (which is now recognized as an intrinsic component of the right to life under Article 21) of the individual, thus depriving the person of the essence of the right to a wholesome life which she or he had lived, hitherto. From the world of the able bodied, the victim is thrust into the world of the disabled, itself most discomfiting and unsettling. If courts nit-pick and award niggardly amounts oblivious of these circumstances, there is resultant affront to the injured victim. (Para 22)

Copy of judgment: Judgement_17-Sep-2020

-Adv. Tushar Kaushik

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