Schools cannot escape liability claims in the event of an accident or any other incident involving a school bus, even if it is a hire-purchase agreement.
Alka Sarin High Court Bench dismissed a plea by Sanawar Model Senior Secondary School, Mohali, challenging an order from the Motor Accident Tribunal (MACT), Mohali, which had previously dismissed a school’s application for the removal of his name as a necessary part in the event of an accident.
The request was dismissed on August 16, 2019 by MACT in a lawsuit filed by the widow and children of an accident victim, Surjit Singh, who is believed to have died in an accident involving the school bus.
The school had argued that it was not concerned with the offending vehicle and that it was not the owner of the offending vehicle.
The school argued that it had hired school buses to pick up and drop off students and that for this purpose it paid a fee to the owner of the buses and that any liability for accidents or other incidents lay to the owner.
She had also produced a registration certificate showing that the bus was under a hire-purchase contract. Therefore, it was argued that he was not a necessary party to the dispute and therefore his name should be deleted in the proceedings before the MACT.
The family’s solicitor, Gopal Sharma, had referred to the provisions of Section 2(30) of the Motor Vehicles (MV) Act 1988, arguing that the person in possession of the vehicle under the accord is also considered an owner. “Owner means a person in whose name a motor vehicle is registered and, where that person is a minor, the guardian of that minor, and in respect of a motor vehicle which is the subject of a hire contract -sale or lease agreement or mortgage agreement, the person in possession of the vehicle under that agreement,” he quoted the provisions of the MV Act.
The court observed that the offending vehicle was operated by the school under a hire-purchase agreement and that, in accordance with the provisions of the MV Act, it would therefore be considered an owner.
The court also referred to the settlement document in which it was established that the bus had been purchased to transport pupils and staff to and from school and for school visits/trips etc. The school is required to pay all taxes and fees for government offices for said bus, for the period it remains on hire with the school, it read.
“Having regard to the definition of ‘owner’ as it appears in the 1988 Act and having regard to the fact that the offending vehicle was in the possession of the applicant school under the hire-purchase agreement, I find no illegality or invalidity in the contested order,” said court Alka Sarin rejecting the plea.