8 Feb 2011

Owner on record liable for motor accident even after sale: Supreme Court

Holding that despite the transfer of ownership of vehicle, unless the name of the owner was changed in the registration certification of the vehicle, the former owner continues to be liable to third parties in respect of claims for insurance in motor vehicle accident, the Supreme Court referred to its earlier decisions to hold the former owner liable on account of his name being still on the registration certificate of the vehicle. The Supreme Court held so, considering the question; "Whether in the fact and circumstances of the case the liability to pay the compensation amount as determined by the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal was of the purchaser of the vehicle alone or whether the liability of the recorded owner of the vehicle was coextensive and from the recorded owner it would pass on to the insurer of the vehicle?"

The Supreme Court in Pushpa @ Leela v. Shakuntala declared the law in the following terms;
11. It is undeniable that notwithstanding the sale of the vehicle neither the transferor Jitender Gupta nor the transferee Salig Ram took any step for the change of the name of the owner in the certificate of registration of the vehicle. In view of this omission Jitender Gupta must be deemed to continue as the owner of the vehicle for the purposes of the Act, even though under the civil law he ceased to be its owner after its sale on February 2, 1993
12. The question of the liability of the recorded owner of a vehicle after its sale to another person was considered by this Court in Dr. T.V. Jose vs. Chacko P.M., (2001) 8 SCC 748. In paragraphs 9 and 10 of the decision, the Court observed and held as follows:
“9. Mr. Iyer appearing for the Appellant submitted that the High Court was wrong in ignoring the oral evidence on record. He submitted that the oral evidence clearly showed that the Appellant was not the owner of the car on the date of the accident. Mr. Iyer submitted that merely because the name had not been changed in the records of R.T.O. did not mean that the ownership of the vehicle had not been transferred. Mr. Iyer submitted that the real owner of the car was Mr. Roy Thomas. Mr. Iyer submitted that Mr. Roy Thomas had been made party-Respondent No.9 to these Appeals. He pointed out that an Advocate had filed appearance on behalf of Mr. Roy Thomas but had then applied for and was permitted to withdraw the appearance. He pointed out that Mr. Roy Thomas had been duly served and a public notice had also been issued. He pointed out that Mr. Roy Thomas had chosen not to appear in these Appeals. He submitted that the liability, if any, was of Mr. Roy Thomas.
10. We agree with Mr. Iyer that the High Court was not right in holding that the Appellant continued to be the owner as the name had not been changed in the records of R.T.O. There can be transfer of title by payment of consideration and delivery of the car. The evidence on record shows that ownership of the car had been transferred. However the Appellant still continued to remain liable to third parties as his name continued in the records of R.T.O. as the owner. The Appellant could not escape that liability by merely joining Mr. Roy Thomas in these Appeals. Mr. Roy Thomas was not a party either before MACT or the High Court. In these Appeals we cannot and will not go into the question of inter se liability between the Appellant and Mr. Roy Thomas. It will be for the Appellant to adopt appropriate proceedings against Mr. Roy Thomas if, in law, he is entitled to do so.” 
13. Again, in P.P. Mohammed vs. K. Rajappan & Ors., (2008) 17 SCC 624, this Court examined the same issue under somewhat similar set of facts as in the present case. In paragraph 4 of the decision, this Court observed and held as follows:
“4. These appeals are filed by the appellants. The insurance company has chosen not to file any appeal. The question before this Court is whether by reason of the fact that the vehicle has been transferred to Respondent 4 and thereafter to Respondent 5, the appellant got absolved from liability to the third person who was injured. This question has been answered by this Court in T.V. Jose (Dr.) v. Chacko P.M. wherein it is held that even though in law there would be a transfer of ownership of the vehicle, that, by itself, would not absolve the party, in whose name the vehicle stands in RTO records, from liability to a third person. We are in agreement with the view expressed therein. Merely because the vehicle was transferred does not mean that the appellant stands absolved of his liability to a third person. So long as his name continues in RTO records, he remains liable to a third person.”
14. The decision in Dr. T.V. Jose was rendered under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939. But having regard to the provisions of section 2(30) and section 50 of the Act, as noted above, the ratio of the decision shall apply with equal force to the facts of the case arising under the 1988 Act. On the basis of these decisions, the inescapable conclusion is that Jitender Gupta, whose name continued in the records of the registering authority as the owner of the truck was equally liable for payment of the compensation amount. Further, since an insurance policy in respect of the truck was taken out in his name he was indemnified and the claim will be shifted to the insurer, Oriental Insurance Company Ltd.
15. Learned counsel for the insurance company submitted that even though the registered owner of the vehicle was Jitender Gupta, after the sale of the truck he had no control over it and the possession and control of the truck were in the hands of the transferee, Salig Ram. No liability can, therefore, be fastened on Jitender Gupta, the transferor of the truck. In support of this submission he relied upon a decision of this Court in National Insurance Company Ltd. vs. Deepa Devi & Ors., (2008) 1 SCC 414. The facts of the case in Deepa Devi are entirely different. In that case the vehicle was requisitioned by the District Magistrate in exercise of the powers conferred upon him under the Representation of the People Act, 1951. In that circumstance, this Court observed that the owner of the vehicle cannot refuse to abide by the order of requisition of the vehicle by the Deputy Commissioner. While the vehicle remained under requisition, the owner did not exercise any control over it: the driver might still be the employee of the owner of the vehicle but he had to drive the vehicle according to the direction of the officer of the State, in whose charge the vehicle was given. Save and except the legal ownership, the registered owner of the vehicle had lost all control over the vehicle. The decision in Deepa Devi was rendered on the special facts of that case and it has no application to the facts of the case in hand. 

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