A single-member bench of the Kerala High Court while deciding an appeal from a Motor Accident Claims Tribunal, made it clear that the fact that the victim in an accident was not using a helmet at the time of the accident by itself cannot prove contributory negligence.
The case involved an accident caused by rash and negligent driving of one of the respondents which resulted in an accident and the eventual death of a college professor. The Motor Accident Claims Tribunal awarded the kin of the deceased a compensation amount of Rs. 33,03,700/- but with a deduction of 20% citing contributory negligence by the deceased in not wearing a helmet. The appellants approached the High Court challenging the application of contributory negligence. In the High Court, the matter was heard by a Single-member bench comprising Justice P.V. Kunhikrishnan.
After hearing the pleadings from both sides, the court deliberated on the issue of whether the fact that the deceased was not wearing a helmet can amount to contributory negligence. The court approved that Section 129 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 makes wearing of helmets mandatory for riders of two-wheelers. The court observed that:
"….it is clear that as per Section 129 of the Act, every person riding or driving on a motorcycle of any class, the description shall, while in public place wear protective headgear conforming to the Standards prescribed in this regard. The explanation to Section 129 of the Act makes it clear that protective gear means a helmet. There is no doubt to the fact that Section 129 of the Act is mandatory."
But the court also observed that the non-wearing of the helmet was not the reason for knocking down the rider of the motorcycle by the offending vehicle. Negligence cannot be fixed on the shoulders of the rider of the vehicle merely for not wearing the helmet. Further, the court observed that for contributory negligence to be established is that the negligence of the victim was a cause of the accident or that it directly altered the nature of the injury sustained. The bench placed reliance on the judgement of the Supreme Court in Mohammed Siddique v. National Insurance Company Ltd.
(AIR 2020 SC 520) to hold that:
“Simply because there is a violation of Section 129 of the Motor Vehicles Act 1988 by a victim in an accident, there is no presumption that there is contributory negligence on the part of the person who was not wearing the helmet. It is to be decided in the facts and circumstances of each case. In other words, simply because a person is not wearing a helmet and there is a violation of Section 129 of the Motor Vehicles Act, the Tribunal cannot attribute contributory negligence on the part of the deceased or the injured.”
The court also added a word of caution that the verdict is in no way a license for people to not wear helmets while riding two-wheelers and directed that the authorities concerned must see that Section 129 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 is compiled in its letter and spirit. [READ JUDGMENT]