The Supreme Court observed that an owner of a vehicle cannot be expected to verify the genuineness of his driver’s licence he was satisfied about his driving skills.
The owner of the vehicle is expected to verify the driving skills and not run to the licensing authority to verify the genuineness of the driving license before appointing a driver, the bench comprising Justices Hemant Gupta and Vikram Nath observed.
In this case, a truck met with an accident. In the motor accident claim case, the owner of the truck deposed that before employing the driver, he had taken his driving test and that he was driving the vehicle satisfactorily. He also stated that the driver was employed with him for 3 years before the date of the accident. He further stated that the driver had a driving license from Nagaland but the same was not produced. After finding that the licence of the driver was fake, the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal passed an award granting liberty to the Insurance Company to recover the awarded amount from the owner along with up-to-date interest. The Delhi High Court dismissed the appeal filed by the owner.
Before the Apex Court, the owner contended that the owner has no means to verify the genuineness of driving license produced before him. That, he had taken test of the driver before employing him, he has taken sufficient precaution before employment.
Taking note of this contention, the bench observed thus:
If the owner has stated that driver had produced the driving license from Nagaland but no such license was produced on record, it is obviously a mistake on the part of the owner. However, such aspect cannot be used to grant liberty to the Insurance Company to recover the amount from the owner when the driving license actually produced by the claimant themselves was from Una, Himachal Pradesh. It may be stated that falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus is not the principle applicable in India. Therefore, even if a part of the statement that the driver has produced the license from Nagaland is not correct, it is wholly inconsequential.
Referring to earlier judgments, the bench allowed the appeal and observed:
“The owner of the vehicle is expected to verify the driving skills and not run to the licensing authority to verify the genuineness of the driving license before appointing a driver. Therefore, once the owner is satisfied that the driver is competent to drive the vehicle, it is not expected from the owner thereafter to verify the genuineness of the driving license issued to the driver.”
In United India Insurance Co. Ltd v. Lehru & Ors (2003) 3 SCC 338, a two judges bench had made the following observations:
“When an owner is hiring a driver he will therefore have to check whether the driver has a driving licence. If the driver produces a driving licence which on the face of it looks genuine, the owner is not expected to find out whether the licence has in fact been issued by a competent authority or not. The owner would then take the test of the driver. If he finds that the driver is competent to drive the vehicle, he will hire the driver. We find it rather strange that insurance companies expect owners to make enquiries with RTOs, which are spread all over the country, whether the driving licence shown to them is valid or not. Thus where the owner has satisfied himself that the driver has a licence and is driving competently there would be no breach of Section 149(2)(a)(ii). The insurance company would not then be absolved of liability. If it ultimately turns out that the licence was fake, the insurance company would continue to remain liable unless they prove that the owner/insured was aware or had noticed that the licence was fake and still permitted that person to drive. More importantly, even in such a case the insurance company would remain liable to the innocent third party, but it may be able to recover from the insured.”
Later a three judges bench in National Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Swaran Singh and Others (2004) 3 SCC 297, clarified that these observations in Lehru must not be read to mean that an owner of a vehicle can under no circumstances have any duty to make any enquiry in this respect.
“We may wish to point out that the defence to the effect that the licence held by the person driving the vehicle was a fake one, would be available to the insurance companies, but whether despite the same, the plea of default on the part of the owner has been established or not would be a question which will have to be determined in each case.“, it was observed. This view was reiterated in Pappu and Ors. v. Vinod Kumar Lamba and Anr (2018) 3 SCC 208
Rishi Pal Singh vs New India Assurance Co Ltd. | 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 646 | CA 4919 OF 2022 | 26 July 2022 | Justices Hemant Gupta and Vikram Nath
Motor Accident Claims – The owner of the vehicle is expected to verify the driving skills and not run to the licensing authority to verify the genuineness of the driving license before appointing a driver. Therefore, once the owner is satisfied that the driver is competent to drive the vehicle, it is not expected from the owner thereafter to verify the genuineness of the driving license issued to the drive. (Para 10)
Legal Maxims – Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus is not the principle applicable in India. (Para 6)
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