HIGH COURT OF KERALA
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(1.) These two appeals are filed against the award of the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal, Perumbavoor in O.P. (MV) No. 981 of 1990. The above claim petition was filed by the father and mother of one Benny who died in a motor accident. The deceased Benny was an automobile mechanic and he was working in Janahitham Motor Workshop in Kuroor Kara owned by one Sri. K.P. Chinna Swamy. The owner of the vehicle in question who is the appellant in M.F.A. No. 641 of 1993 entrusted his vehicle to the workshop for building its body. On 2.3.1987 at about 12.30 p.m. while Benny was engaged in doing the work on the rear side of the lorry, another worker in the workshop took the lorry backwards without any warning and the lorry hit on the head of Benny. Thereafter, the lorry went further backwards and hit against the wall of the workshop and caused damages. Eventhough Benny was taken to the Government Hospital, he succumbed to the injuries. It was the contention that the deceased was 20 years old at the time of death and the accident occurred due to the negligent driving of the lorry by another employee of the workshop. It is stated that first respondent is the owner of the lorry and he is liable to pay compensation. It was also claimed that insurer of the lorry should pay the compensation. Petitioners claimed Rs.1,50,000/- as compensation. The Tribunal awarded compensation of Rs.78,300/- with interest. The Tribunal found that since the accident occurred in the workshop and not in a public place, the insurance company is not liable to pay compensation. Therefore, the Tribunal directed the owner of the lorry to pay compensation.
(2.) The contention of the insurance company was that eventhough there is a valid comprehensive insurance for the lorry the insurance company is not liable because the accident occurred not in a public place. It was further contended that the person who was driving the lorry at the time of the accident was not having valid driving licence and, therefore, there is violation of the conditions of the policy. On that ground also the insurance company is not liable to pay compensation. The question whether driver of the lorry had valid driving licence or not was not considered by the Tribunal as it found that since the accident occurred not in a public place, the insurance company is any way not liable to pay compensation. The contention of the owner of the lorry that he had entrusted the lorry to the workshop and if the workshop owner has allowed to use the lorry by a person who has no driving licence, he is not responsible and it is the responsibility of the owner of the workshop to pay compensation in such cases was also not accepted. The owner of the workshop is not made a party either by the claimants or by the owner of the lorry. The contention of the appellant in M.F.A. No. 623 of 1993 is that even if there is no driving licence, the insurance company should be directed to pay compensation as the poor claimants should not suffer. If there is violation of the policy conditions, it is for the insurer to recover the amount from the owner of the vehicle. It is also contended that the amount awarded is very low.
(3.) The first question to be considered is whether the accident occurred in a public place or not as liability of the insurance company was excluded by the Tribunal because the accident happened in a private place. The accident happened in the workshop. There is no pleading or evidence to show that the workshop owner restricted access to the public to the workshop or its premises or he was using the workshop only for vehicles owned by certain persons only. It was a general workshop where anybody can take his vehicle for repair. The word 'public place' has been defined in S.2(24) of the Motor Vehicles Act which reads as follows:
" 'Public place' means a road, street, way or other place, whether a thoroughfare or not, to which the public have a right of access, and includes any place or stand at which passengers are picked up or set down by a stage carriage."
In United India Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Lakshmi ( 1997 (1) KLT 449 ), after quoting the observation of Barry, J.in R. v. Kane ((1965) 1 All. ER 705), this Court held as follows:
"In substance, a place is a 'public place' though it is private property when it is shown that the public are in the habit of resorting to it and no one is prevented therefrom so resorting to it ......."
In Stroud's Judicial Dictionary, 5th Edition, page 2094, 'public place' has been defined as follows:
"A 'public place' is a place to which the public can and do have access; it doesn't matter whether they come at the invitation of the occupier or merely with his permission, or whether some payment or the performance of some formality is required before access can be had ........"
In Black's Law Dictionary, 5th Edition, page 1107, 'public place' has been defined as follows:
"Public place: A place to which the general public has a right to resort; not necessarily a place devoted solely to the uses of the public, but a place which is in point of fact public rather than private, a place visited by many persons and usually accessible to the neighbouring public (e.g. a park or public beach). Also, a place in which the public has an interest as affecting the safety, health, morals, and welfare of the community. A place exposed to the public, and where the public gather together or pass to and fro.";
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