Civil Appeal No. 7603 of 2012 (Arising out of SLP (C) No. 3487 of 2011). Case: K. Suresh Vs New India Assurance Company Ltd. and Anr.. Supreme Court (India)

Case NumberCivil Appeal No. 7603 of 2012 (Arising out of SLP (C) No. 3487 of 2011)
CounselFor Appellant: Vipin Nair and Udayaditya Banerjee, Advs. for Temple Law Firm and For Respondents: Aishwarya Bhati, Sanjay Mittal, Aditya Dhawan and Chander Shekhar Ashri, Advs.
JudgesK.S. Panicker Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra, JJ.
IssueMotor Vehicles Act, 1988 - Sections 166, 168
Citation2012 ACJ 2694, 2013 (1) AWR 146 (SC), 2013 (1) AWC 453 SC, 2013 (2) CDR 334 (SC), 2012 GLH (3) 632, 2013 (1) JLJR 313, JT 2012 (10) SC 484, 2013 (1) LW 302, 2013 (1) PLJR 280, 2013 (169) PLR 337, 2013 (1) RCR 312 (Civil), 2012 (10) SCALE 516, 2012 (12) SCC 274, 2013 (2) WBLR 643 (SC), 2012 (4) WLN 53
Judgement DateOctober 19, 2012
CourtSupreme Court (India)


Dipak Misra, J.

  1. Leave granted.

  2. Despite many a pronouncement in the field, it still remains a challenging situation warranting sensitive as well as dispassionate exercise how to determine the incalculable sum in calculable terms of money in cases of personal injuries. In such Assessment neither sentiments nor emotions have any role. It has been stated in Davies v. Powell Duffryn Associate Collieries Ltd. 1942 AC 601 that it is a matter of Pounds, Shillings and Pence. There cannot be actual compensation for anguish of the heart or for mental tribulations. The quintessentiality lies in the pragmatic computation of the loss sustained which has to be in the realm of realistic approximation. Therefore, Section 168 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (for brevity 'the Act') stipulates that there should be grant of "just compensation". Thus, it becomes a challenge for a court of law to determine "just compensation" which is neither a bonanza nor a windfall, and simultaneously, should not be a pittance.

  3. In Jai Bhagwan v. Laxman Singh and Ors. (1994) 5 SCC 5, a three-Judge Bench of this Court, while considering the Assessment of damages in personal-injury-actions, reproduced the following passage from the decision by the House of Lords in H. West and Son, Ltd. v. Shephard (1963) 2 All ER 625:

    My Lords, the damages which are to be awarded for a tort are those which 'so far as money can compensate, will give the injured party reparation for the wrongful act and for all the natural and direct consequences of the wrongful act' [Admiralty Comrs. v. Susquehanna (Owners), The Susquehanna (1926) All ER 124: 1926 AC 655]. The words 'so far as money can compensate' point to the impossibility of equating money with human suffering or personal deprivations. A money award can be calculated so as to make good a financial loss. Money may be awarded so that something tangible may be procured to replace something else of like nature which has been destroyed or lost. But money cannot renew a physical frame that has been battered and shattered. All that judges and courts can do is to award sums which must be regarded as giving reasonable compensation. In the process there must be the endeavour to secure some uniformity in the general method of approach. By common assent awards must be reasonable and must be Assessed with moderation. Furthermore, it is eminently desirable that so far as possible comparable injuries should be compensated by comparable awards. When all this is said it still must be that amounts which are awarded are to a considerable extent conventional.

    In the said case reference was made to a passage from Clerk and Lindsell on Torts (16th Edn.) which is apposite to reproduce as it relates to the awards for non-pecuniary losses:

    In all but a few exceptional cases the victim of personal injury suffers two distinct kinds of damage which may be classed respectively as pecuniary and non-pecuniary. By pecuniary damage is meant that which is susceptible of direct translation into money terms and includes such matters as loss of earnings, actual and prospective, and out-of-pocket expenses, while non-pecuniary damage includes such immeasurable elements as pain and suffering and loss of amenity or enjoyment of life. In respect of the former, it is submitted, the court should and usually does seek to achieve restitutio in integrum in the sense described above, while for the latter it seeks to award 'fair compensation'. This distinction between pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage by no means corresponds to the traditional pleading distinction between 'special' and 'general' damages, for while the former is necessarily concerned solely with pecuniary losses - notably accrued loss of earnings and out-of-pocket expenses - the latter comprises not only non-pecuniary losses but also prospective loss of earnings and other future pecuniary damage.

  4. In this regard, we may refer with profit the decision of this Court in Nagappa v. Gurudayal Singh and Ors. (2003) 2 SCC 274 wherein the observations of Lord Denning M.R. in Lim Poh Choo v. Camden and Islington Area Health Authority (1979) 1 All ER 332 were quoted with approval. They read thus:

    The practice is now established and cannot be gainsaid that, in personal injury cases, the award of damages is Assessed under four main heads: first, special damages in the shape of money actually expended; second, cost of future nursing and attendance and medical expenses; third, pain and suffering and loss of amenities; fourth, loss of future earnings.

  5. While having respect for the conventional determination there has been evolution of a pattern and the same, from time to time, has been kept in accord with the changes in the value of money. Therefore, in the case of Ward v. James (1965) 1 All ER 563 it has been expressed thus:

    Although you cannot give a man so gravely injured much for his 'lost years', you can, however, compensate him for his loss during his shortened span, that is, during his expected 'years of survival'. You can compensate him for his loss of earnings during that time, and for the cost of treatment, nursing and attendance. But how can you compensate him for being rendered a helpless invalid? He may, owing to brain injury, be rendered unconscious for the rest of his days, or, owing to a back injury, be unable to rise from his bed. He has lost everything that makes life worthwhile. Money is no good to him. Yet judges and juries have to do the best they can and give him what they think is fair. No wonder they find it well nigh insoluble. They are being asked to calculate the incalculable. The figure is bound to be for the most part a conventional sum. The judges have worked out a pattern, and they keep it in line with the changes in the value of money.

  6. While Assessing the damages there is a command to exclude considerations which are in the realm of speculation or fancy though some guess work or some conjecture to a limited extent is inevitable. That is what has been stated in C.K. Subramania Iyer v. T. Kunhikuttan Nair AIR 1970 SC 376. Thus, some guess work, some hypothetical considerations and some sympathy come into play but, a significant one, the ultimate determination is to be viewed with some objective standards. To elaborate, neither the tribunal nor a court can take a flight in fancy and award an exorbitant sum, for the concept of conventional sum, fall of money value and reasonableness are to be kept in view. Ergo, in conceptual eventuality "just compensation" plays a...

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