The concept of strict liability and burden of proof are two important parameters in adjudication of a accident claim by the victim. How these parameters are to be applied and in what context was clarified by the Bench of Justices AK Goel and Rohinton Fali Nariman of the Supreme Court presiding over an appeal against an award of compensation of Rs. 4 lakh under Section 124A of the Railways Act, 1989.
The respondent had filed a claim for compensation for death of her husband in an ‘untoward incident’ in 2002 before the Railway Accident Claims Tribunal. The case was that the deceased had purchased a second class train ticket and he fell down from the train due to rush of passengers and died on the spot. The Tribunal dismissed the claim on the ground that it was not a case of ‘untoward incident’ but a case of ‘run over’ and that the deceased was not a bona fide passenger. The Delhi High Court had set aside the order of the Tribunal by relying upon the evidences of witnesses to the effect that the deceased had purchased ticket and had boarded the train. The Central government then preferred an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Whilst adjudicating upon the appeal, the Court stated that the principle of strict liability applies and held that Sections 124 and 124A provide that in the case of an accident or an ‘untoward incident’ compensation is payable whether or not there has been wrongful act, neglect or fault on the part of the railway administration. The only exceptions to Section 124 is mentioned in Section 124A wherein at the time of application of the principle of strict liability, proof of negligence is not required. The Court occluded that death or injury in the course of boarding or de boarding a train will be an ‘untoward incident’ entitling a victim to the compensation and will not fall under the proviso to Section 124A merely on the plea of negligence of the victim as a contributing factor. Addressing the issue of burden of proof, the Court held that mere presence of a body in the Railway premises will not be conclusive to hold that the injured or deceased was a bonafide passenger for which claim for compensation could be maintained. However, the mere absence of the ticket of the injured or deceased also will not negate the claim of such person being a bonafide passenger. Accordingly, the Court dismissed the appeal filed by the appellant and upheld the order of the Delhi High Court.
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Judgment: Union of India Versus Rina Devi