Mathew Alexander vs. Mohammed Shafi and Anr.
Date of Order:
Hon’ble Justice B.V. Nagarathna.
Appellant(s)- Mathew Alexander
Respondent(s)- Mohammed Shafi and Anr.
- A First Information Report (FIR) with number 01/2015 was filed by the complainant against the Appellant's son at Chathannoor Police Station, invoking Sections 279 and 304A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The FIR alleged that on January 1, 2015, around 2:15 am, the Appellant's son, Nixon Abey Matthew, aged 20 years, was driving a Maruti Alto car with registration number KL 2 AC 1370 along with his friends on the left side of the Kollam-Thiruvananthapuram National Highway, going from East to West.
- At Seemati, Chathannoor, a gas tanker lorry with registration number KL 39 C 4577, driven by Ramar in a reckless and negligent manner, collided with the Maruti Alto car. Tragically, this accident resulted in the death of the Appellant's son and five other passengers in the car. Consequently, Respondent No.1 and other legal representatives of the deceased passengers have filed claim petitions before the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal in Kollam, seeking compensation for the loss of their loved ones, on whom they were dependent.
- Additionally, Respondent No.1 has filed a claim petition in which the deceased son of the Appellant is identified as Respondent No.4, and the driver of the tanker lorry, Ramar, is named as Respondent No.2. This particular claim petition is currently pending.
- The Assistant Commissioner of Police filed the conclusive report in connection with FIR No.1/2015. The chargesheet mentioned that the charges against the Appellant's son were dropped since he passed away in the accident.
- However, due to the Appellant's complaint about irregularities in the investigation, the District Police Chief, Kollam, instructed the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Chathannoor, to conduct a thorough investigation into the matter. The additional investigation was initiated by the order of JMFC, Paravur, Kollam, under Section 173(8) of the CrPC, with instructions to file a final report following legal procedures.
- It is important to note that the Appellant filed a claim petition against the owner and driver of the tanker lorry, which was involved in the collision with his son's Alto car, as well as against the insurer of the tanker lorry, alleging negligence on the driver's part. This claim petition is currently pending.
- The Assistant Commissioner of Police took over the further investigation of the case and submitted a final report to JMFC, Paravur, Kollam. According to this report dated 29.11.2019, the incident was deemed an unavoidable accident.
- It was explained that the Appellant's son's Alto car attempted to overtake a pick-up van, but the van's driver did not yield, resulting in a collision between the car and the van. Subsequently, the Alto car collided with the tanker lorry. This final report contradicted the earlier report dated 27.01.2016 and stated that the incident was an unavoidable accident and not due to negligence on the part of the Appellant's son.
- In response to the final report, Respondent No.1 was dissatisfied and, therefore, filed a petition under Section 482 of the CrPC before the Kerala High Court. In this petition, they sought the quashing of the investigation report dated 29.11.2019.
- It is worth noting that this petition was filed two years after the issuance of the final report. Subsequently, on 31.03.2022, the Kerala High Court granted the request made by Respondent No.1 and quashed the final report dated 29.11.2019. The court's ruling mentioned that the incident was an unavoidable accident and not due to negligence on the part of the Appellant's son.
- Feeling discontented with the quashing of the report, the present appeal has been lodged by the Appellant.
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE APPELLANT
- The Appellant's counsel argued that Respondent No.1's petition to quash the final report dated 29.11.2019, filed under Section 482 of the CrPC, was unnecessary and untimely as it was submitted after a two-year delay.
- It was pointed out that an earlier final report had been filed by the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Kollam District Crime Branch, on 27.01.2016, which charged the Appellant's son with offenses under Section 279 and 304A of the IPC. However, it was also stated in the chargesheet that the case against the Appellant's son had abated.
- The Appellant had, in fact, requested a thorough further investigation, which led to the commencement of the investigation on 19.12.2018, in CC No. 215 of 2016, Crime No.1 of 2015 at Chathannoor Police Station, under Section 173(8) of the CrPC.
- The Assistant Commissioner of Police conducted the further investigation and submitted the final report on 29.11.2019. It was only after a gap of two years that Respondent No.1 filed Criminal MC No.4870 of 2021 under Section 482 of the CrPC, seeking the quashing of this further investigation's final report before the High Court, without including the Appellant or other affected parties as Respondents.
- The Supreme Court observed that the quashing of the mentioned report would significantly impact the criminal proceedings. However, they also took into consideration the fact that the Appellant's son had tragically passed away in the accident. As a result, the criminal proceeding against him would come to an end (abate) due to his demise.
- The Supreme Court has determined that the High Court, in its contested order (specifically, paragraphs 8 to 13 and 18), made observations that can be construed as findings while assessing the accuracy of the final report challenged before it. Additionally, the High Court made unnecessary findings regarding the manner in which the Appellant's son, Nixon Abey Mathew, was driving the car.
- These observations suggested that the car was being driven recklessly, had veered off to the wrong side, and might have been driven under the influence of alcohol. The High Court also mentioned that the driver's rashness and negligence were evident and applied the principle of "res ipsa loquitur" unnecessarily.
- Based on these unwarranted findings, the High Court quashed the report produced after the further investigation, stating, "The incident is attributable to the rash and negligent driving of the Alto car."
- The Supreme Court opines that the High Court's approach in rendering opinions that resemble findings, while assessing the accuracy of the final report from the further investigation, and subsequently quashing it, is incorrect and improper. Therefore, the Supreme Court concludes that the impugned order of the High Court should be set aside solely on this ground.
- Regarding the Appellant's claim petition, it is essential to prove the alleged negligence on the part of the tanker lorry and pickup van drivers, which led to the accident. This matter will be assessed based on the preponderance of possibilities, not on the standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt.
- The burden of proving negligence lies with the parties filing the claim petitions, including the Appellant, and other claimants. They must establish negligence on the part of the drivers of the Alto car, the tanker lorry, or the pickup van, depending on the case.
- If the claimants successfully prove negligence, their respective claim petitions will be considered on their merits. On the other hand, if they fail to establish negligence, their claim petitions will be accordingly disposed of.
- In this context, reference is made to judgments of the Supreme Court in cases such as N.K.V. Bros. (P) Ltd. vs. M. Karumai Anmal and Bimla Devi vs. Himachal Road Transport Corporation. These judgments emphasize that in cases seeking compensation for accidents caused by negligence, the standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt is not applicable. Instead, the Tribunal must consider the evidence from a holistic perspective and determine compensation based on the preponderance of probabilities.
- In the Appellant's case seeking compensation for his son's death in the accident, it is their responsibility to prove negligence on the part of the tanker lorry driver. The opinion stated in the final report will not impact the claim petition because the Appellant is seeking compensation based on the alleged negligence of the tanker lorry driver, which caused the accident.
- Likewise, the dependents of the other passengers who died in the accident must similarly establish negligence in accordance with the law when filing their claim petitions.
- Based on the preceding discussion, the challenged order of the High Court dated 31.03.2022 is overturned, and the appeal is granted.
- The Supreme Court examined the matter and found that the High Court's approach was flawed. It emphasized that the burden of proving negligence lies with the claimants, and the standard of proof is based on the preponderance of probabilities, not proof beyond reasonable doubt.
- As a result, the Supreme Court set aside the High Court's order and allowed the appeal, leaving the claim petitions to be determined based on the parties' respective evidence regarding negligence in causing the accident. The case highlights the importance of carefully considering evidence and legal principles when determining liability and compensation in road traffic accidents.