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Legalities Surrounding Hit and Run Cases in Motor Insurance in India

India having the highest no. of road crash deaths and injuries in the world and the bustling thoroughfares of India's roadways, the hit and run cases adds to complexity of motor vehicle insurance and legal responsibilities arising from it.

Amidst the chaotic traffic, the Indian Motor Vehicle Act, a crucial law governing driving conduct outlines the duties and liabilities arising from hit and run incidents. The article seeks to clarify the legal obligations faced by victims seeking compensation and insurance companies struggling with these challenging situations amid the unpredictability of road accidents and fleeing drivers.

Definition and legal provisions related to hit and run cases:

Under Section 161 of Motor Vehicle Act a "hit and run motor accident" is defined as an accident arising out of the use of a motor vehicle or motor vehicles the identity whereof cannot be ascertained despite reasonable efforts for the purpose.

Legal provisions:
Under Indian law hit and run cases are governed under Motor Vehicle Act,1988 amended in 2019 and Indian Penal Code, 1860 now replaced by Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023.

The Motor Vehicle Act, 1988: Under Sec 161 and 161(2) of M.V.A provides compensation in hit and run cases. The Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Act was passed by the Parliament and was approved by the president in 2019. The act mainly talks about road safety and compensation for road accidents victims which covers medical expenses and other losses and amounts up to Rs. 2 lakhs can be charged in death cases.

Indian Penal Code, 1860: The provisions related to hit and run cases were enshrined under different sections of IPC such as Section 279 (rash or reckless driving), Section 304 A (causing death by negligence) and 338 (endangering life or personal safety of others). In exceptional cases, 302 (murder) and 304 A the punishment for death due to rash and negligent driving are invoked and the imprisonment up to two years can be charged. However, there is no specific section for hit and run incidents.

Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita , 2023: The new law which replaced colonial era law i.e. IPC has got it assent recently by Droupadi Murmu the president of India, earlier there were no provisions which talked about hit and run cases specifically but now under Sec 104 (2) of B.N.S: whoever causes death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide and escapes from the scene of incident or fails to report the incident to a police officer or Magistrate soon after the incident, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description of a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine up to Rs. 7 lakhs, Moreover the law also applies to private vehicle owners.

Reporting Requirements and timelines:

Duty of insured and witnesses:
Regarding the consequences of a hit-and-run accident, it is the primary responsibility of the parties involved to comply with their reporting obligations within the established deadlines. The obligation to report accidents immediately is not only a moral obligation but is also embedded in the legal framework of the Motor Vehicles Act.

According to Article 134 of the Act, a driver involved in a hit-and-run accident must report the accident to the nearest police station. This reporting requirement is time-sensitive and typically requires immediate action. Failure to report an accident within the allotted deadline can have legal consequences and further complicate an already difficult situation.

Legal consequences for failing to report a hit and run incident:
The reporting process involves providing important information about the incident, such as time, location, and circumstances. Timely reporting is critical not only for law enforcement to begin an investigation, but also for victims to begin the process of seeking compensation in the Motor Vehicle Accident Claims Tribunal (MACT).

It is important to understand these reporting requirements and deadlines, as delays or non-compliance can affect the legal standing of the parties involved. For victims seeking justice and insurance companies processing claims, complying with these reporting requirements is an important aspect of the broader legal perspective surrounding hit-and-run incidents in Indian motor insurance.

Compensation Mechanisms:
Data from the ministry of road transport & highways (MoRTH) shows that the share of hit-and-run cases in total road accidents and deaths was 14.6% and 18.1% in 2022. These numbers were 16.8% and 11.8% in 2021, the cause of incidents related to hit and run is increasing every year to tackle this situation, Motor Vehicle Act plays an important role to compensate the losses arising from such incidents in India.

The role of the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal (MACT):
Established under the Motor Vehicles Act, MACT acts as a quasi-judicial body dealing with the adjudication of claims relating to motor vehicle accidents, including those arising from hit- and- run incidents. The victim or their legal representative can claim from MACT seeking compensation for injuries, property damage or in unfortunate cases and loss of life.

The compensation given by MACT is determined by various factors, including the nature and extent of the injuries, loss of income and medical charges. Importantly, MACT is grounded on the principle of no-fault liability, meaning that victims can seek compensation without having to prove a party's negligence.

This aspect is particularly important in hit- and- run cases where identifying the fleeing driver can be a major challenge. Still this process isn't without its challenges. Detainments in adjudging cases and the complexity of assessing compensation can further complicate the burden on victims seeking just compensation.

Compensation to victims of Hit & Run Motor Accidents Scheme, 2022:
  • It is a monetary assistance scheme of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways; it was launched on 1st April 2022. The scheme superseded the Solatium Scheme 1989 under this scheme the amount of compensation used to be Rs. 50,000/- on death of a victim and Rs. 12,500/- in case of grievous hurt.
  • Under the Compensation to victims of Hit & Run Motor Accidents Scheme, 2022 the amount of compensation for death is Rs.2,00,000/- and Rs. 50,000/- for grievous hurt.

Key Features of the Scheme:

  • Compensation amount shall be administered from the Motor Vehicle Accident Fund constituted under section 164B of Motor Vehicle Act.
  • Motor Vehicle Accident Fund includes:
    • Account for Insured Vehicle.
    • Account for Uninsured Vehicles.
  • To monitor, review, and administer the scheme, there is a Standing Committee at the Centre Level.
  • To monitor, to take corrective measures, to evaluate the progress of the scheme, there is a District Level Committee set up under this scheme.
  • It is mandatory to pay compensation within the 15 days of compensation sanction order.

Payment of Compensation:

  • In case of death of the victim, the amount of compensation i.e. Rs. 2,00,000/- will be paid to the legal representative of the deceased.
  • In case of grievous injury, the amount of compensation i.e. Rs. 50,000/- will be paid directly to the injured person.
  • The General Insurance Council will directly make an E payment to the bank account provided by the claimant or legal representative of the deceased.
  • It is mandatory to make payment within the period of 15 days from the date of receipt of the order.
  • In case the payment is delayed due to any reason, the Claims Settlement Commissioner shall record the reason in writing.

Unidentified Vehicles and the Insured:
Challenges faced by insurance companies when the offending vehicle is unidentified:
When the offending vehicle is still unknown, hit-and-run cases frequently pose a special challenge. Victims are left to deal with uncertainty in such circumstances, and insurance companies have a difficult time handling claim. It is essential to comprehend the legal responsibilities and factors pertaining to unidentified vehicles. However, the challenge lies in proving the involvement of an unidentified vehicle, requiring meticulous documentation of the incident and any available evidence.

Legal Obligations of Insurance Providers:
Contributing to the Motor Vehicles Accident Fund:
The Motor Vehicles Act mandates that insurance companies make contributions to the Motor Vehicles Accident Fund. In situations where the vehicle that caused the offense is unknown, victims can receive compensation through this fund. The usefulness of the fund depends on insurers meeting their financial obligations.

Legal Consequences of Uninsured Vehicles:
legal repercussions for uninsured vehicles involved in hit and run incidents:
In a recent judgment, the Supreme Court has requested all states to ensure that in the event of an accident involving an uninsured vehicle, the owner of the vehicle is required to pay appropriate compensation to the victim's family.

The owner of the uninsured vehicle may be required to auction the vehicle if necessary and the proceeds of the auction shall be paid to the claims tribunal to make good the losses sustained by the victim.

The role of the Motor Vehicles Act in penalizing owners of uninsured vehicle:
  • Compulsory third-party insurance:
    The Indian Motor Vehicle Act requires that all vehicles on the road be covered by a valid insurance policy. At least, the liability of third parties should be covered by this insurance policy. A failure to comply with that mandatory insurance requirement shall constitute a breach of the law. Car owners are required to carry compulsory third party liability insurance to cover damage and injury to third parties in the event of an accident.

    This law ensures that owners are financially responsible for potential liability if their car is involved in an accident.

    The 3rd party insurance relates to covering the damage done by one's own vehicle to other vehicle or property or life. "The need for this ruling arose based on that fact that every day numerous accidents occur on a road and the party in question may not have an insurance policy or is carrying an expired policy,"
  • Regulatory Sanctions:
    Owners of uninsured cars are subject to special fines as prescribed by the Act. These sanctions, which usually consist of fines, can change depending on the kind of vehicle and how long the violation lasted. Implementing the requirement to ensure that vehicle owners maintain up-to-date insurance coverage is the goal. The Act's provisions aim to create a safer and more responsible driving environment while providing a mechanism for compensating victims of accidents involving uninsured vehicles.

Recent Legal developments and Precedents:
Legislative Amendments:
The introduction of Bharatiya Nyaya Samhita (BNS) ushered in a new era of legal development in India, especially in dealing with serious hit-and-run cases. The aim of the BNS is to improve road safety by introducing harsh penalties for drivers who cause serious road accidents due to careless driving and then flee the scene of the accident without informing the police or authorities. According to this new law, drivers involved in such hit-and-run incidents will face stiff penalties.

This is a significant increase from the previous maximum of two years under the IPC and demonstrates the Legislature's good faith efforts to prevent negligent driving now they could be sentenced to 10 years in prison or a hefty fine of 700,000 rupees.

Reaction of the new law:
Nationwide truck and bus driver protests, thousands of truck drivers protested for two days resulting in shortage of fuel and people rushing to petrol pumps causing chaotic traffic and increase in prices of necessities. Drivers demands against tough new hit-and-run laws that have caused chaos on major interstates and highways in many parts of the country, they are calling for strict new regulations to be immediately repealed.

However, Truck drivers staged two days of protests after Home Minister Ajay Bhalla said new penalties for hit-and-run cases would be implemented only after consultation with the All-India Motor Transport Council (AIMTC). The strike was subsequently called off.

Barra stressed that the new law had not yet come into force and urged AIMTC and protesting drivers to get back to work.

Insurance Policy Considerations:
The Claim Enquiry Officer in each Taluka will receive an application from the "hit-and-run" automobile victim or his legal representation. The District Collector or the Deputy Commissioner at the district level will receive the report and certificate of postmortem or injury certificate from the Claims Enquiry Officer following the appropriate inquiries.

Within 15 days of receiving the report from the claim inquiry officer, he will process the claims, approve the payment, and send the sanction order to the insurance company's designated office. Hit and Run Accident claims are compensated out of a Solatium Fund, to which the general insurance industry contributes according to a predetermined formula. Claims administration is completed. New India Assurance Co Ltd, which has designated one Divisional Manager in each district at the District Level Committee, led by the District Collector, is responsible for managing claims.

Summing up, a thorough grasp of insurance policies and legal nuances is essential for negotiating the complexities of hit-and-run situations within Indian motor insurance. A complex environment that includes everything from the Motor Vehicles Act's defining provisions to current legal decisions, court rulings, and insurance policy issues must be skillfully navigated by parties.

The study highlights the importance of victim rights, road safety, and financial accountability by emphasizing the dynamic interaction between statutory requirements and insurance systems. In the aftermath of hit-and-run accidents within the Indian motor insurance arena, a cooperative and flexible approach becomes imperative as the legal and insurance landscapes continue to change.


Written By: Tushika Asthana - Bharati Vidyapeeth's New Law College Pune
Email: [email protected]

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