Tort: Compensation for death

Principles for determination of Compensation for death:

Loss of estate, loss of consortium and funeral expenses:

The conventional and traditional heads, needless to say, cannot be determined on percentage basis because that would not be an acceptable criterion. Unlike determination of income, the said heads have to be quantified. Any quantification must have a reasonable foundation. There can be no dispute over the fact that price index, fall in bank interest, escalation of rates in many a field have to be noticed. The court cannot remain oblivious to the same. There has been a thumb rule in this aspect. Otherwise, there will be extreme difficulty in determination of the same and unless the thumb rule is applied, there will be immense variation lacking any kind of consistency as a consequence of which, the orders passed by the tribunals and courts are likely to be unguided. Therefore, we think it seemly to fix reasonable sums. It seems to us that reasonable figures on conventional heads, namely, loss of estate, loss of consortium and funeral expenses should be Rs. 15,000/-, Rs. 40,000/- and Rs. 15,000/- respectively. The principle of revisiting the said heads is an acceptable principle. But the revisit should not be fact-centric or quantum-centric. We think that it would be condign that the amount that we have quantified should be enhanced on percentage basis in every three years and the enhancement should be at the rate of 10% in a span of three years.

Just Compensation:

Section 168 of the MV Act deals with the concept of “just compensation” and the same has to be determined on the foundation of fairness, reasonableness and equitability on acceptable legal standard because such determination can never be in arithmetical exactitude. It can never be perfect. The aim is to achieve an acceptable degree of proximity to arithmetical precision on the basis of materials brought on record in an individual case. The conception of “just compensation” has to be viewed through the prism of fairness, reasonableness and non- violation of the principle of equitability.

In a case of death, the legal heirs of the claimants cannot expect a windfall. Simultaneously, the compensation granted cannot be an apology for compensation. It cannot be a pittance. Though the discretion vested in the tribunal is quite wide, yet it is obligatory on the part of the tribunal to be guided by the expression, that is, “just compensation”. The determination has to be on the foundation of evidence brought on record as regards the age and income of the deceased and thereafter the apposite multiplier to be applied. The formula relating to multiplier has been clearly stated in Sarla Verma (supra) and it has been approved in Reshma Kumari (supra). The age and income, as stated earlier, have to be established by adducing evidence. The tribunal and the Courts have to bear in mind that the basic principle lies in pragmatic computation which is in proximity to reality. It is a well accepted norm that money cannot substitute a life lost but an effort has to be made for grant of just compensation having uniformity of approach. There has to be a balance between the two extremes, that is, a windfall and the pittance, a bonanza and the modicum. In such an adjudication, the duty of the tribunal and the Courts is difficult and hence, an endeavour has been made by this Court for standardization which in its ambit includes addition of future prospects on the proven income at present. As far as future prospects are concerned, there has been standardization keeping in view the principle of certainty, stability and consistency. We approve the principle of “standardization” so that a specific and certain multiplicand is determined for applying the multiplier on the basis of age.

Future prospects:

Having bestowed our anxious consideration, we are disposed to think when we accept the principle of standardization, there is really no rationale not to apply the said principle to the self-employed or a person who is on a fixed salary. To follow the doctrine of actual income at the time of death and not to add any amount with regard to future prospects to the income for the purpose of determination of multiplicand would be unjust. The determination of income while computing compensation has to include future prospects so that the method will come within the ambit and sweep of just compensation as postulated under Section 168 of the Act. In case of a deceased who had held a permanent job with inbuilt grant of annual increment, there is an acceptable certainty. But to state that the legal representatives of a deceased who was on a fixed salary would not be entitled to the benefit of future prospects for the purpose of computation of compensation would be inapposite. It is because the criterion of distinction between the two in that event would be certainty on the one hand and staticness on the other. One may perceive that the comparative measure is certainty on the one hand and uncertainty on the other but such a perception is fallacious. It is because the price rise does affect a self-employed person; and that apart there is always an incessant effort to enhance one’s income for sustenance. The purchasing capacity of a salaried person on permanent job when increases because of grant of increments and pay revision or for some other change in service conditions, there is always a competing attitude in the private sector to enhance the salary to get better efficiency from the employees. Similarly, a person who is self-employed is bound to garner his resources and raise his charges/fees so that he can live with same facilities. To have the perception that he is likely to remain static and his income to remain stagnant is contrary to the fundamental concept of human attitude which always intends to live with dynamism and move and change with the time. Though it may seem appropriate that there cannot be certainty in addition of future prospects to the existing income unlike in the case of a person having a permanent job, yet the said perception does not really deserve acceptance. We are inclined to think that there can be some degree of difference as regards the percentage that is meant for or applied to in respect of the legal representatives who claim on behalf of the deceased who had a permanent job than a person who is self-employed or on a fixed salary. But not to apply the principle of standardization on the foundation of perceived lack of certainty would tantamount to remaining oblivious to the marrows of ground reality. And, therefore, degree-test is imperative. Unless the degree-test is applied and left to the parties to adduce evidence to establish, it would be unfair and inequitable. The degree-test has to have the inbuilt concept of percentage. Taking into consideration the cumulative factors, namely, passage of time, the changing society, escalation of price, the change in price index, the human attitude to follow a particular pattern of life, etc., an addition of 40% of the established income of the deceased towards future prospects and where the deceased was below 40 years an addition of 25% where the deceased was between the age of 40 to 50 years would be reasonable.

Conclusions of Constitution Bench in 2017:

(i) The two-Judge Bench in Santosh Devi should have been well advised to refer the matter to a larger Bench as it was taking a different view than what has been stated in Sarla Verma, a judgment by a coordinate Bench. It is because a coordinate Bench of the same strength cannot take a contrary view than what has been held by another coordinate Bench.

(ii) As Rajesh has not taken note of the decision in Reshma Kumari, which was delivered at earlier point of time, the decision in Rajesh is not a binding precedent.

(iii) While determining the income, an addition of 50% of actual salary to the income of the deceased towards future prospects, where the deceased had a permanent job and was below the age of 40 years, should be made. The addition should be 30%, if the age of the deceased was between 40 to 50 years. In case the deceased was between the age of 50 to 60 years, the addition should be 15%. Actual salary should be read as actual salary less tax.

(iv) In case the deceased was self-employed or on a fixed salary, an addition of 40% of the established income should be the warrant where the deceased was below the age of 40 years. An addition of 25% where the deceased was between the age of 40 to 50 years and 10% where the deceased was between the age of 50 to 60 years should be regarded as the necessary method of computation. The established income means the income minus the tax component.

(v) For determination of the multiplicand, the deduction for personal and living expenses, the tribunals and the courts shall be guided by paragraphs 30 to 32 of Sarla Verma which we have reproduced hereinbefore.

(vi) The selection of multiplier shall be as indicated in the Table in Sarla Verma read with paragraph 42 of that judgment.

(vii) The age of the deceased should be the basis for applying the multiplier.

(viii) Reasonable figures on conventional heads, namely, loss of estate, loss of consortium and funeral expenses should be Rs. 15,000/-, Rs. 40,000/- and Rs. 15,000/- respectively. The aforesaid amounts should be enhanced at the rate of 10% in every three years.

[Source: National Insurance Co. Ltd vs Pranay Sethi, decided by 5 judges bench of SC on 31 October, 2017]
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