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In a recent judgment, the Karnataka High Court held that a learner’s licence is a valid licence, and that the holder of such licence for a motorcycle does not need to be accompanied by an instructor.
The judgment was passed by Justice K Natarajan in an appeal filed by National Insurance Company Limited against the order passed by a Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal (MACT) at Belagavi, Karnataka.
A claim was filed by the husband and the son of the deceased, who succumbed to her injuries after falling off a motorcycle while riding pillion. It was contended that the rider (named as respondent no. 1 in the High Court order) operated the motorcycle in a rash and negligent manner, due to which the accident occurred. The motorcycle was insured by the insurance company (respondent no. 2).
After considering the evidence on record, the MACT awarded the claimants compensation of Rs. 12,65,731.
An appeal was filed by the Insurance Company before the Karnataka High Court challenging this order. A reduction of the compensation granted to the claimants was also sought.
Before the High Court, counsel appearing for the insurance company denied the averments made in the claim petition as being frivolous and baseless. It was submitted that respondent No.1, in collusion with the police, filed a delayed complaint in order to grab illegal compensation from respondent No. 2. Further, since the rider of the motorcycle only had a learner’s licence, the insurer was not liable to pay any compensation.
Moreover, it was argued that as per the provisions of Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, a person who holds a learner’s licence should be accompanied by an instructor. Since this rule was not followed, the company claimed that there was a fundamental breach of the terms and conditions of the insurance policy.
With regard to the compensation granted, it was argued that the first claimant (husband of the deceased) could not be said to be a dependant of the deceased, as he was earning. Therefore, it was contended that the split multiplier ought to be applied in this case. A reduction of the interest awarded by the MACT was also sought.
Counsel for the claimants, on the other hand, contended that the deceased was holding a permanent driving licence. It was further argued that there is no instructor required for a two-wheeler motorcycle, and that an instructor is required only for learning of four-wheeler vehicles.
After hearing the parties, Justice Natarajan noted that Rule 24(3)(v) of the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989 clearly provides that an instructor shall accompany the learner while driving motor vehicles having dual control facility to enable the instructor to control or stop the vehicle. It was held that motorcycles were excluded or exempted from the requirement of an instructor.
The Court relied on a number of Supreme Court judgments to reiterate that a learner’s licence is also a valid licence.
“Therefore, it cannot be said that there was any violation of terms and conditions of the insurance policy. Even the Central Motor Vehicle Rules strictly contemplates accompanying of an instructor in a motor vehicle, but excludes the motorcycle. Therefore, I hold that a learner’s licence is also a valid licence, the rider or the learner need not accompany any instructor for motorcycle, as required in case of four wheeler motor vehicle, which require instructor.”
Thus, the High Court held that the MACT has rightly fastened liability on the insurer.
As regards the question of compensation, the High Court agreed that the split multiplier ought to apply, given the fact that the deceased was due to retire from service at the age of 60 years.
However, the Court held that the claimants were entitled to more compensation than the MACT had determined, given that certain factors were not taken into consideration. Nevertheless, the Court held,
“In view of non-filing of appeal, the claim is restricted to the amount awarded by the Tribunal.”
Thus, the High Court held that the order for compensation awarded by the MACT did not call for its interference.
It was also held that the rate of interest need not be reduced.