1 Oct 2008, 0130 hrs IST, Dhananjay Mahapatra,TNN
NEW DELHI: Finally, the most practical deterrent has come from the Supreme Court that is likely to force parents to keep their car keys away from their minor sons and daughters. For, if these minors cause any accident, it will be their parents who will have to cough up the compensation.
No more flaunting of parents’ luxury cars by underage sons and daughters. This appeared to be the stern message given by a Bench comprising Justices S B Sinha and Cyriac Joseph.
Drawing curtains over a 11-year-old litigation drama in which the victim’s father was given a raw deal, the apex court on September 24 directed the insurance company to immediately pay up the compensation amount and recover it from the father, Rakesh Kumar Arora, whose 15-year-old son, Karan Arora, had run over a person in 1997 while driving his father’s car.
This ruling dramatically changes the legal position prevalent in the country governed by the Motor Vehicles Act. Till now, the High Courts were divided on this point and were putting the onus on the company, which had insured the car for third party claims, to pay up the accident victims.
The HCs were inclined towards giving a clean chit to the parents giving them benefit of doubt, saying they might not know when their minor son or daughter took the car keys.
They used to rule that it was for the insurance company, to be entitled to recover the money from the parents, to prove that the vehicle keys were given despite having knowledge that the underage driver could cause an accident.
In this case, Karan Arora took out his father’s car bearing registration no HR41-3347 on February 5, 1997. He did not have a licence being under 18 years of age. In the ensuing accident, one Virendra Singh aka Rinku got killed. The victim’s father filed an application seeking compensation of Rs 10 lakh. Rakesh Arora contested the claim.
The insurance company, United India Insurance Co Ltd, said the driver of the vehicle, Karan, was a minor on the date of accident and was not holding a valid and effective licence. Hence, it was not liable to reimburse the owner of the vehicle of the compensation amount which he has to pay to the victim’s father.
The Motor Accident Claims Tribunal found the allegation that the driver was underage and that he had no valid licence and asked the minor’s father to pay up. It also held that the insurance company was not liable to pay. The father challenged this order in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. A single-judge Bench said that the insurance companies, to shift liability on the owner of the vehicle, should prove that there was a wilful default on the part of the insured.
Allowing the appeal and saddling the insurance company with the compensation, the single-judge Bench said: “I have already stated above that no sane father would like to give the custody of keys of the vehicle to his minor son aged 14 years much less to the friend of the minor.
Had Rakesh Kumar Arora parted the possession of the vehicle to his son, he would have contemplated very easily that by doing so he would have incited trouble.”
A division bench of the HC upheld the order of the single-judge. However, reversing the concurrent findings of the HC, the apex court restored the tribunal order and said it was not for the insurance company to prove breach of contract when ex-facie the driver was a minor and did not have a valid licence.