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By R. Brizmohan Singh


The one and the only point involved in the above captioned topic is as to whether Murder is an Accident or not?

THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS OF THE POLICY: did not define an Accident but only qualified the same that mere accident is not enough for payment under the policy but the accident must be accompanied by tell tale qualities of the same being i) Visible, (ii) Violent and (iii) External means. There is no dispute that in a Murder, these three ingredients are existing. But, what does this word ‘Accident’ mean appears to be the only point for consideration.

Inasmuch as the word accident is not defined in the Terms and Conditions, the only alternative available is to look into the dictionary, the Supreme Court Judgments, the I.P.C. and Criminal Procedure Code along with the definition or description of Murder.

As per Macmillan English Dictionary for advanced learners, International Edition, the word Accident and its related words along with illustrations is as follows:

ACCIDENT: 1. a crash involving a car, train, plane, or other vehicle; a fatal accident on the autoroute between Paris and Lyons. He was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. The accident was caused by ice on the road. 1a. a sudden event, usually caused by someone making a mistake that results in damage, injury, or death; Seven men were killed in a serious mining accident yesterday. A riding/climbing/hunting accident. 1b. a mistake that causes minor damage or harm: Don’t make such a fuss – it was an accident.

2. Something that happens unexpectedly, without being planned: To be honest, my second pregnancy was an accident. 2a. it is no accident used for saying that something was planned, perhaps for dishonest reasons: It is no accident that every letter we send is delayed.

An accident of birth a situation caused by who your family is rather than by anything you do

An accident waiting to happen 1. a situation likely to cause an accident: An ageing nuclear reactor is an accident waiting to happen. 2. someone who behaves in a way what is likely to cause trouble

By accident by chance, without being planned or intended. Quite by accident, she came up with a brilliantly simple solution. Occasionally we would meet by accident in the corridor.

Going by the above, it can be clearly seen that presence of intention, preplanning or expectations removes a particular happening out of the definition of word Accident. This definition has universal application and the dictionary does not make any distinction based on any particular situation. In legal terms, absence of mens rea is the criteria for calling any incident an Accident.

Thus, Murder is defined in the form of noun as THE CRIME OF KILLING SOMEONE DELIBERATELY and in the form of verb as TO COMMIT THE CRIME OF KILLING SOMEONE DELIBERATELY.

It is this word Deliberate that rules out the possibility of an incident being called an Accident. This is exactly is the reason that Accident has been made an exception and a defense to a charge of Murder and the Indian Penal Code describes the various kinds of Culpable Homicide amounting to Murder and not amounting to the same as the reading of Sections 299, 300, 301 and 304-A along with Accident as a defense or an exception.

299. Culpable homicide:- Whoever causes death by doing an act with the intention of causing death, or with the intention of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, or with the knowledge that he is likely by such act to cause death, commits the offence of culpable homicide.

300. Murder:- Firstly, Except in the cases hereinafter excepted, culpable homicide is murder, if the act by which the death is caused is done with the intention of causing death, or

Secondly:- If it is done with the intention of causing such bodily injury as the offender knows to be likely to cause the death of the person to whom the harm is caused, or

Thirdly:- If it is done with the intention of causing bodily injury to any person and the bodily injury intended to be inflicted is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death, or

Fourthly:- If the person committing the act knows that it is so imminently dangerous that it must, in all probability, cause death or such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, and commits such act without any excuse for incurring the risk of causing death or such injury as aforesaid.

Exception 1:- When culpable homicide is not murder:- Culpable homicide is not murder if the offender, whilst deprived of the power of self-control by grave and sudden provocation, causes the death of the person who gave the provocation or causes the death of any other person by mistake or accident.

301. Culpable homicide by causing death of person other than person whose death was intended:- If a person, by doing anything which he intends or knows to be likely to cause death, commits culpable homicide by causing the death of any person, whose death he neither intends nor knows himself to be likely to case, the culpable homicide committed by the offender is of the description of which it would have been if he had caused the death of the person whose death he intended or knew himself to be likely to cause.

304-A. Causing death by negligence:- Whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

The combined effect of reading the aforesaid sections cannot be better illustrated than mere reproduction of the words of the Supreme Court in the case of Smt. Rita Devi and others Vs New India Assurance Company Limited and Another cited as 2000 (3) Supreme 698, as "the question, therefore, is can a murder be an accident in any given case? There is no doubt that ‘murder’, as it is understood, in the common parlance is a felonious act where death is caused with intent and the perpetrators of that act normally have a motive against the victim for such killing. But there are also instances where murder can be by accident on a given set of facts. The difference between a ‘murder’ which is not an accident and a ‘murder’ which is an accident, depends on the proximity of the cause of such murder. In our opinion, if the dominant intention of the Act of felony is to kill any particular person then such killing is not an accidental murder but is a murder simplicitor, While if the cause of murder or act of murder was originally not intended and the same was caused in furtherance of any other felonious act then such murder is an accidental murder.

However, contrary to the above judgment of the Supreme Court and without referring any case law or the illegal principle, the National Commission in the case of Manda Savarna Vs The Branch Manager, LIC of India and Another cited as 1998 (3) CPR 5 (NC) merely held that whether an incident is an accident or not has to be seen only from the point of view of the insured.

With great respect to that judgment, by being contrary to Supreme Court, by not even basing on legal principle and by not referring to the over whelming case law on the point, the same cannot have any binding force on any subsequent Court of co-ordinate jurisdiction or sub-ordinate jurisdiction as the legal position clarified by the Supreme Court in Rita Devi Case and in all other previous judgments was not present to the mind of National Commission.

Insofar as legal principle is concerned, it is not the insured’s point of view that is the criteria but it is The Rule of Contra Proferentem that is actually the legal principle applicable to insurance contracts.

Rule of Contra Proferentem is generally made applicable to standard form of contracts. Later, this rule was extended to Terms and Conditions of insurance policies. It is strictly a rule of interpretation where, in case of an ambiguity, the construction that is favourable to the insured is adopted. This is purely a rule invoked for interpretation of the terms of contracts. This rule has no application to anything when no particular term of contract is under interpretation. Even this interpretation is confined to cases where there is existence of any ambiguity in any particular term. In the absence of any word being in ambiguity, it cannot be invoked.

As seen from the dictionary meaning and as on exception on defense to a charge of murder and further going by the interpretation of the said term by the Supreme Court in of the said term by the Supreme Court in Rita Devi Supra, hardly any ambiguity exits. The Supreme Court of India in Central Bank of India Vs Hartford Fire Insurance Company cited as AIR 1965 SC 1288 clearly held "it is well known however that the rule (of contra proferentum) has no application where there is no ambiguity in the words in the standard form of contract : London and Lancashire Fire Insurance Company Limited Vs Bolands" in para 11 of the judgment.

Yet, in a latest judgment in United India Insurance Company Limited Vs Harchandrai Chandanlal cited as JT 2004 (8) SC 8, the Supreme Court reiterated at para 14 that therefore, it is settled law that the terms of contract has to be strictly read and NATURAL meaning be given to it. No outside aid should be sought unless the meaning is ambiguous.

Hence, considering murder as an accident only for the purpose of insured’s point of view is not safe and considering the same would militate against the dictionary meaning, against the defense of accident against a charge of murder and the definitions of various types of culpable Homicide requiring amendment of the provisions of Cr.P.C. and hence, unnatural.


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