New Delhi, Apr 12 (PTI) Nearly 14 years after a Porsche car got completely damaged in an accident during wee hours at India Gate here, the Supreme Court Monday ruled that the insurance company was correct in repudiating the claim on the ground that the driver was under the influence of liquor.
The luxury car, belonging to firm Pearl Beverages Ltd and driven by Aman Bangia, was allegedly being driven rashly and negligently when it hit a footpath near Children Park at India Gate in winter of 2007 and got overturned before catching fire.
A bench comprising Justices U U Lalit, Indira Banerjee and K M Joseph set aside the verdict of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) that the insurance IFFCO Tokio General Insurance Company Ltd is not entitled to invoke the shield of Clause (2c) of the Contract of Insurance, under which, it was not liable, if the person driving the vehicle, was under the influence of intoxicating liquor, or drugs.
The NCDRC had held that it was wrong on the part of insurance company to reject the claim.
Prior to this, the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (SCDRC) had rejected the complaint of the car owning company by holding that there was evidence to show that the person who drove the vehicle, had consumed liquor and was under its influence and therefore the claim cannot be made out.
Justice Joseph, who wrote an 181-page long verdict while deciding the appeal of the insurance company against the NCDRC order, referred to the laws, medical evidence and practices prevalent in countries like the United Kingdom, Scotland and the USA.
“We can safely proceed in this case, on the basis that the person driving the vehicle had consumed alcohol... It is true that the exact quantity, which he had consumed, is not forthcoming. The fact that he smelt of alcohol, is indisputable, having regard to the contents of the FIR and also the MLC...The incident took place in the early hours of 22.12.2007. It happened in New Delhi. It is further clear that it happened in the close vicinity of India Gate.
“The driver and the passenger were in their twenties. At that time of the day, viz., the early hours, the version of the parties must be appreciated without reference to any possibility of the accident happening as a result of any sudden incident happening, as for instance, attempted crossing of a person or an animal, which necessitated the vehicle, being involved in the accident, in the manner, which is borne out by the FIR..,” the judgement said.
The Porsche car, which has a very powerful engine, hit at a massive force with the footpath of the road, got overturned before catching fire, it said.
“We are conscious that speed and its impact can be relative to the road, the traffic and the speed limits. The FIR refers to the car being driven 'very fast'. A person can be rash and negligent without having been under the influence of alcohol. At the same time, being under the influence of alcohol can also lead to rash and negligent driving. They are not incompatible,” it held.
The apex court held the car driver and his companion had, indeed, consumed alcohol.
“The accident took place when the road would have been wholly free from any traffic (There is no case whatsoever that the accident was caused by another vehicle being driven in any manner or any person or animal attempting to cross the road or otherwise deflecting the attention of the driver). The accident has no apparent cause, even according to the respondent and the driver and his companion, yet we are asked to believe that the driver was in full control of his senses,” it said while setting aside the order of the NCDRC.
It took note of the Medico-legal case report which had said that there was “smell of alcohol” in the mouth of the driver and this fact was discerned by a Medical Practitioner.
“Though the case was set up by the respondent (car owner) that the driver had not consumed alcohol, the driver, in his evidence (Affidavit evidence), has not even stated that he has not consumed alcohol, as was the specific case set up in the complaint…,” the judgement said. PTI SJK RKS RKS