• Wed. Sep 21st, 2022

Vehicle owner cannot be expected to verify authenticity of driver’s license if satisfied with driving skills: Supreme Court

ByElla E. Kidwell

Jul 31, 2022

The Supreme Court observed that the owner of a vehicle cannot be expected to verify the authenticity of his driving license if he is convinced of his driving skills.

The vehicle owner is supposed to check the driving skills and not come to the licensing authority to check the authenticity of the driver’s license before appointing a driverthe bench comprising Judges Hemant Gupta and Vikram Nath observed.

In this case, a truck encountered an accident. In the car accident claim case, the owner of the truck stated that before employing the driver, he had passed his driving test and was driving the vehicle satisfactorily. He also stated that the driver had been employed with him for 3 years prior to the date of the accident. He further stated that the driver had a Nagaland driver’s license but this was not produced. After finding that the driver’s license was false, the Motor Vehicle Accident Claims Tribunal issued an award granting the insurance company freedom to recover the amount awarded from the owner along with up-to-date interest. The Delhi High Court dismissed the owner’s appeal.

In Apex court, the owner argued he had no way of verifying the authenticity of the driver’s license produced before him. That, if he had passed the driver’s test before employing him, he took sufficient precautions before employment.

Taking note of this assertion, the panel observed as follows:

If the owner stated that the driver produced the Nagaland driver’s license but no such license was produced on file, this is clearly an error on the part of the owner. However, this aspect cannot be used to grant freedom to the insurance company to recover the amount from the owner when the driver’s license actually produced by the applicant himself was from Una, Himachal Pradesh. It can be said that falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus is not the principle applicable in India. Therefore, even if part of the statement that the driver produced the Nagaland license is not correct, it is completely inconsequential.

Referring to previous judgments, the seat allowed the appeal and observed:

“The owner of the vehicle is supposed to verify the driving skills and not come to the competent authority to verify the authenticity of the driver’s license before appointing a driver. Therefore, once the owner is satisfied that the driver is competent to drive the vehicle, the owner is not expected to subsequently verify the authenticity of the driving license issued to the driver.”

Previous judgments

In United India Insurance Co. Ltd v. Lehru & Ors (2003) 3 SCC 338, a panel of two judges made the following observations:

“When an owner hires a driver, he will therefore have to check whether the driver has a driving licence. If the driver presents a driving license which, on the face of it, appears genuine, the owner is not supposed to know whether the license was actually issued by a competent authority or not.The owner would then take the driver’s test.If he finds that the driver is competent to drive the vehicle, he will hire the driver.We find it rather strange that the insurance companies expect owners to check with RTOs which are spread across the country to find out if the driver’s license presented to them is valid or not.So when the owner has made sure that the driver is licensed and driving competently, there would not be a violation of Section 149(2)(a)(ii) and the insurance company would not be relieved of liability. finally proved that the permit was is false, the insurance company would continue to be liable unless it proves that the owner/insured knew or noticed that the license was false and still allowed that person to drive. More importantly, even in such a case, the insurance company would still be liable to the innocent third party, but it might be able to recover from the insured.”

Later, a bench of three judges in National Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Swaran Singh and Others (2004) 3 SCC 297, clarified that these observations in Lehru should not be interpreted as meaning that a vehicle owner can under no circumstances be under an obligation to inquire in this regard.

It should be noted that the defense to the effect that the license held by the person driving the vehicle was a forgery would be available to the insurance companies, but that despite this, the dismissal on the part of the owner established or not would be a question to be determined in each case.“, it was observed. This view was reiterated in Pappu and Ors. v. Vinod Kumar Lamba and Anr (2018) 3 SCC 208

Case details

Rishi Pal Singh v New India Assurance Co Ltd. | 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 646 | CA 4919 FROM 2022 | July 26, 2022 | Judges Hemant Gupta and Vikram Nath

Summaries

Traffic accident claims – The vehicle owner is supposed to check the driving skills and not run to the licensing authority to check the authenticity of the driver’s license before appointing a driver. Therefore, once the owner is satisfied that the driver is competent to drive the vehicle, the owner is not subsequently expected to verify the authenticity of the driving license issued to the driver. (Paragraph 10)

Legal maximsFalse in uno, false in omnibus is not the principle applicable in India. (Paragraph 6)

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