The entire road traffic in India, the registration of all types of vehicles plying on the roads, the regulation of the drivers, road accidents, claims made by the victims of accidents and their wards etc are all dependent upon a single peace of legislation known as the Motor Vehicles Act.
Originally enacted in the year 1939, during the British rule in India, the Motor Vehicles Act has undergone a sea of changes between 1939 and 1988. The act has been amended comprehensively in the year 1988 in tune with the welfare State ideals of India and in order to meet the growing demands of its people. Almost all the states in India have enacted Motor Vehicles Rules, to regulate the registration of vehicles and the issue of permits to the owners of the vehicles and issue of license to the drivers Motor Vehicles.
The Motor Vehicles Act can be hailed as welfare legislation since it deals with comprehension about the road accidents involving motor vehicles and also enabling the victims to claim compensation. The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, between sections 165 and 176 comprehensively provides for the establishment of claims tribunals by the state governments, the procedure for applying compensation by the victims, procedure and powers of the claim tribunals in making the awards, liability of the insurance companies, enabling the state government to make rules, awarding interest on the compensation amount, providing for appeals etc.
The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 has also done away with the provisions of limitation period of six months to file a claim application for a victim.Taking into account the difficulties of a victim or his legal heirs in procuring the documents pertaining to an accident, the limitation provision has been deleted, which is definitely a step forward in the right direction.
The characteristic feature of the act is that it accepts and fixes the cases of road accident victims as tortuous liability upon the culprits who cause the road accidents. The insurance companies are burdened with vicarious liability in paying compensation amount to the victims, though they may not be directly causing any accident.
The Accidents Claims Tribunals are very liberal and following only summary procedures in disposing of the claims applications, but they are very strict in imposing a burden upon the insurance company, provided that the accident and claim is proved and the insurance policy of the vehicle involved in the accident was actually in force at the time of the accident and the driver of the vehicle who caused the accident had a valid license at the time of the accident.
While awarding a compensation to an accident victim, the tribunal takes into account the nature of the injury he suffered, whether it is simple or grievous and if grievous, the duration of the treatment he has taken for treatment, the medical expenses involved, the percentage of permanent disability the victim has sustained, his loss of income etc. In order to assess the permanent disability of the victim, the Tribunal invariably relies upon the medical opinion of a medical expert.
In the case of fatal victims, the Tribunal awards compensation to the victims legal heirs.In the fatal cases the Tribunal is guided by the principles of equity and good conscience.The Tribunal while awarding compensation in the fatal cases takes into account the age of the diseased person, his educational qualification, employment status, the income that he earned at the time of death, whether he was an income-tax payer or not.The tribunal also takes into account the average life span of an individual, the legal heirs economic status, particularly the chances of employability of the widow of the diseased, her chances of getting remarried etc.
In the case of diseased persons whose income cannot be specifically ascertained, the Tribunals fix a notional income say Rs 2,000 or Rs 3,000 per month and after deducting a portion of it, calculate the award amount.
In fatal cases, hitherto Tribunals have been taken into account only the net income of the diseased person in awarding compensation.Recently, the Supreme Court of India has delivered a judgment according to which, the perks of the diseased person that he had been receiving when he was alive, should also be taken into account while awarding compensation to the victims legal heirs.
The Tribunals while awarding compensation to the victims direct the insurance companies or the owners of the vehicle, to deposit the award amount along with 7.5% interest from the date of filing the application in the Tribunal until the amount is deposited into the court.The Tribunal normally stipulates a period of two months for depositing the compensation amount into the Tribunal.
Again to help the victims of motor accidents or other claimants who are languishing at the failure of the insurance companies to deposit the compensation amount, the Tribunals also order for the attachment.