Insurance company cannot escape liability just because driver died of heart attack in parked vehicle: Karnataka HC

The Karnataka High Court has ruled that an insurance company is not exempt from its obligation to pay compensation, if the driver of an insured vehicle dies of a heart attack while in employment, solely on the ground that the dump truck was not in use at the time of his death.

Referring to an earlier decision in which the court ruled that driving is undoubtedly a stressful job, Judge HP Sandesh of Dharwad’s bench said: “The Court must take note of the policy taken in order to cover the risk of the driver during employment. I have already pointed out that Respondent No. 1 [employer] in the written statement in paragraph #2 categorically admitted that the death occurred in the course of employment and this cannot be disputed by the insurer.”

The court dismissed an appeal by The Divisional Manager National Insurance Company Limited against the August 2009 judgment and award of the Workmen’s Commissioner. The commissioner had attached liability to the insurance company by ordering the award of compensation of Rs.3,03,620/- with 12% interest to the legal heirs of the deceased driver Eranna.

The insurance company previously argued that the death was due to heart failure and was not a reason for using the vehicle, which was parked near a petrol bunk. The death was due to a blockage in the heart, the court heard. It was also alleged that the owner of the vehicle had filed a complaint stating that the driver had a habit of getting drunk every day and that when he consumed alcohol, the employer was not required to pay the indemnity.

Results:

The bench going through the records noted that the insurance company cannot claim that the death did not occur during employment. On the allegation that the driver was taking drugs while intoxicated, the bench said:

“There is no doubt that in the complaint as well as in the indictment based on the complaint filed by the employer, the same is stated. But to prove the fact that he consumed alcohol, there is no evidence is presented in court. The autopsy report is also very silent and nothing is recorded.”

The court also said that the owner of the vehicle was not interviewed, so the allegation even in the complaint as well as in the indictment was unsubstantiated.

The bench further said that the claim that it was only a “natural death” and that the company is not liable to pay the same cannot be accepted. he also said the plaintiffs before the commissioner specifically said the driver died due to job-related stress.

“The vehicle need not be in use at the time of his death and the court must take note of the occasional connection to employment and death and the policy is taken to cover the risk of the driver,” the court said. .

The court also said the driver died while sleeping in the vehicle on a working day and noted that the owner had admitted the person had died in the course of his employment.

Case Title: THE DIVISIONAL MANAGER NATIONAL INSURANCE COMPANY LIMITED v SHANKARAMMA and others

Case no.: AMF no. 20003/2010

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Kar) 371

Order date: 9TH DAY OF SEPTEMBER 2022

Appearance: Lawyer SK KAYAKAMATH for the appellant.

SHIVAKUMAR S BADAWADAGI, LAWYER FOR R1,

Click here to read/download the judgment