6-month window to file Motor Accident Compensation claims challenged in Orissa High Court

The provision, Section 166(3), reduces the time period available to file an application for compensation for a motor vehicle accident.
6-month window to file Motor Accident Compensation claims challenged in Orissa High Court
Road Safety

On Wednesday, the Orissa High Court directed the Central Government to respond to a petition challenging Section 166(3) of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, which states that compensation claims must be filed within six months from the date of a motor vehicle accident (Ananga Kumar Otta v. Union of India and Ors).

A Division Bench of Chief Justice Dr S Muralidhar and Justice Dr BR Sarangi asked the Centre to file a reply to the petition and also allowed the petitioner the liberty to file a rejoinder thereto before the next date of hearing.

The petition, filed as a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition, by Advocate Ananga Kumar Otta questions six-month limitation period prescribed under Section 166(3) for the filing of motor vehicle accident compensation claims, pointing out that victims of accidents may be precluded from filing the claim petition on account of ongoing injuries/ sufferings/ being in a coma state for more than six months.

The petitioner’s primary grievance is that even if sufficient cause for delay is established, the Claims Tribunal is now prevented from entertaining an application for accident compensation.

Section 166(3), inserted into the Act by a 2019 amendment, reads thus: "No application for compensation shall be entertained unless it is made within six months of the occurrence of the accident."

Contending that the amendment ignores the plight of victims, the PIL submits that the prior Motor Vehicles legislation allowed the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal to condone applications made six months after the accident provided sufficient cause was shown.

After an amendment in 1994, the limitation period was completely done away with, thereby allowing victims to file applications for compensation even a decade after the accident.

When the 2019 amendment took away the Claims Tribunal's authority to entertain compensation claims beyond six months from the accident, it has had the "devastating effect of taking away the nature of benevolence of the statute towards the accident victims", the petitioner contends.

"Much has been done under the Amending Act, 2019, to ensure minimization of accident, by raising the structure of penalty for violation of traffic rules, but due care has not been adhered to the genuine claim of the victims of road accident.", the petitioner adds.

Another issue raised in the petition pertains to the ambiguity in whether the new provision applies to accidents that occurred prior to the commencement of the provision, in respect of which no accident compensation application has been made.

Urging the Court to interpret the provision beneficially, the petitioner seeks a direction to declare that the provision as prospective and inapplicable to motor accidents that occurred prior to the commencement of Amendment.

"That amendment in law which is intended to curtail the right of the victims of road accident cannot be applied retrospectively ", the petitioner says.

The matter will be taken up next on May 3, 2021.

Advocates Susanta Kumar Dash, Swetlana Das, Asutosh Sahoo, Smruti Mohanty and N. K. Das represent the petitioner.

Read the Order:

Ananga Kumar Otta v. Union of India and Ors. - Order dated Jan 6, 2021.pdf

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