Mother-in-law residing with her son-in-law is “legal representative” under MV Act: SC

PTI, Oct 25, 2021, 6:26 PM IST

New Delhi: A mother-in-law residing with her son-in-law is a “legal representative” under the provision of the Motor Vehicles Act and is entitled to compensation under a claim petition, the Supreme Court on Monday said.

A bench of Justices S A Nazeer and Krishna Murari said it is not uncommon in Indian society for the mother-in-law to live with her daughter and son-in-law during her old age and be dependent upon her son-in-law for her maintenance.

“Mother-in-law herein may not be a legal heir of the deceased, but she certainly suffered on account of his death. Therefore, we have no hesitation to hold that she is a ‘legal representative’ under Section 166 of the MV Act and is entitled to maintain a claim petition” the bench said.

The observations came on an appeal filed by the wife of a man, who died in a motor vehicle accident in 2011, challenging an order of Kerala High Court which held that mother-in-­law residing with her son-in-law was not a legal representative of the deceased and also scaled down the amount of compensation.

The Motor Accident Claims Tribunal had awarded Rs 74,50,971 to the petitioners as compensation but the high court had reduced it to Rs 48,39,728.

The apex court said that the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act give paramount importance to the concept of ‘just and fair compensation.   “It is a beneficial legislation which has been framed with the object of providing relief to the victims or their families. Section 168 of the MV Act deals with the concept of ‘just compensation’ which ought to be determined on the foundation of fairness, reasonableness, and equitability.  Although such determination can never be arithmetically exact or perfect, an endeavour should be made by the Court to award just and fair compensation irrespective of the amount claimed by the applicant/s,” the bench said.

The apex court said the MV Act does not define the term ‘legal representative’ and generally, ‘legal representative’ means a person who in law represents the estate of the deceased person and includes any person or persons in whom legal right to receive compensatory benefit vests.   “A ‘legal representative’ may also include any person who intermeddles with the estate of the deceased.  Such a person does not necessarily have to be a legal heir. Legal heirs are the persons who are entitled to inherit the surviving estate of the deceased. A legal heir may also be a legal representative.     “In our view, the term ‘legal representative’ should be given a wider interpretation for the purpose of Chapter XII of MV Act and it should not be confined only to mean the spouse, parents, and children of the deceased. As noticed above, MV Act is benevolent legislation enacted for the object of providing monetary relief to the victims or their families,” the bench said.

The top court said the MV Act calls for a liberal and wider interpretation to serve the real purpose underlying the enactment and fulfil its legislative intent.   “We are also of the view that in order to maintain a claim petition, it is sufficient for the claimant to establish his loss of dependency. Section 166 of the MV Act makes it clear that every legal representative who suffers on account of the death of a person in a motor vehicle accident should have a remedy for the realization of compensation,” the bench said.

The apex court noted that the deceased was aged 52 years at the time of the accident and was working as an Assistant Professor and getting a monthly salary of Rs 83,831.   The bench said at the time of calculation of the income, the court has to consider the actual income of the deceased, and an addition should be made to take into account prospects and enhance the compensation to Rs 85,81,815.

“The appellants are also entitled to interest on the said amount at the rate of 7.5 per cent per annum from the date of the claim petition till the date of its realisation. The respondent is accordingly directed to deposit the above amount with accrued interest thereon at the rate of 7.5 per cent per annum from the date of claim petition till the date of deposit, after deducting amounts, if any, deposited by the respondent, within eight weeks from today,” the bench said.

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