The Supreme Court Bench of Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice Ajay Rastogi have held that the non-examination of the ‘best witness’ in a Motor Accident claims case is not fatal. In the case of Sunita and Ors Versus Rajasthan State Transport Corporation and Anr, the appellants challenged the order of the High Court which set aside the order of the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal that had partly allowed the claim of the appellants towards the death of its family member. On the issue of non-examination of ‘best-witness’ i.e. the pillion ride in this case, the Bench observed that such non-examination would not be fatal and held:

“31. …….. The approach in examining the evidence in accident claim cases is not to find fault with non examination of some “best” eye witness in the case but to analyse the evidence already on record to ascertain whether that is sufficient to answer the matters in issue on the touchstone of preponderance of probability. This court, in Dulcina Fernandes (supra), faced a similar situation where the evidence of claimant’s eyewitness was discarded by the Tribunal and the respondent was acquitted in the criminal case concerning the accident. This Court, however, took the view that the material on record was prima facie sufficient to establish that the respondent was negligent. In the present case, therefore, the Tribunal was right in accepting the claim of the appellants even without the deposition of the pillion rider, Rajulal Khateek, since the other evidence on record was good enough to prima facie establish the manner in which the accident had occurred and the identity of the parties involved in the accident.”

On the aspect of the inability of one witness to identify the age of the pillion rider, the Bench observed that such inability cannot be a ground to reject his entire version especially since the presence of the witness at the time and place of the accident has remained unshaken and including his deposition regarding the manner of occurrence of the accident and identity of the driver of the offending vehicle. The bench reiterated that that the Tribunal’s role was restricted to deciding and calculating the quantum of compensation if negligence by the Respondent is proved. As such, the Bench set aside the order and judgment of the High Court thereby reinstating the award passed by the Tribunal whilst observing as follows:

“28…………….There is nothing in the Act to preclude citing of a witness in motor accident claim who has not been named in the list of witnesses in the criminal case. What is essential is that the opposite party should get a fair opportunity to cross examine the concerned witness. Once that is done, it will not be open to them to complain about any prejudice caused to them. If there was any doubt to be cast on the veracity of the witness, the same should have come out in cross examination, for which opportunity was granted to the respondents by the Tribunal.”

 

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Judgment: Sunita and Ors Versus Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation and Anr