New Delhi: The Supreme Court has held that life expectancy of an infant can be considered for awarding compensation and upheld the Rs 1.80 lakh awarded to woman, whose still born child died in a road mishap in Karnataka in 1995.
The apex court, however, said the compensation must be "just" as prescribed under the Motor Vehicle Act and should not be a "windfall" for the claimants.
"The amount of compensation awarded is not expected to be a windfall or bonanza for the victim or his dependent, as the case may be, but at the same time it should not be niggardly or a pittance.
"Thus, determination of just amount of compensation is beset with difficulties, more so when the deceased happens to be an infant/ child because the future of a child is full of glorious uncertainties," the apex court said.
A bench of justices D K Jain and R M Lodha passed the judgement, while dismissing an appeal of the National Insurance Company Ltd challenging the enhanced Rs 1.80 lakh compensation awarded to Ms Kusum by the Karnataka High Court as against the Rs 60,000 fixed by the Motor Accidents Tribunal.
"In the case of death of an infant, many imponderables like life expectancy of the deceased, his prospects to earn, save, spend and distribute have to be taken into account. It is quite possible that there may be no actual pecuniary benefit, which may be derived by his parents during the life time of the child.
"But at the same time that cannot be a ground to reject the claim of the parents, albeit they establish that they had reasonable expectation of pecuniary benefit if the child had lived," the apex court said.
In this case on June 28, 1985, Kusum (36) was travelling in a car from Sullia to Puttur district in Karnatak,a when it collided with a bus owned by Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation.
The claimant, who was 30 weeks pregnant, suffered a blow on the stomach, resulting in her delivering a still born child.
Interpreting the word "just" used in the Act for awarding compensation, Justice Jain, writing the judgement, said "the word `just` connotes something, which is equitable, fair and reasonable, conforming to rectitude and justice and not arbitrary.
"It may be true that Section 168 of the Act confers a wide discretion on the Tribunal to determine the amount of compensation but this discretion is also coupled with a duty to see that this exercise is carried out rationally and judiciously by accepted legal standards and not whimsically and arbitrarily, a concept unknown to public law."