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Case Analysis: Poonam Devi v/s Oriental Insurance Co.Ltd

Poonam Devi and Ors. v. Oriental Insurance Co. Ltd.
Case Citation: (2020) 4 SCC 55
Judges: Justice Ashok Bhushan & Justice Manoj Mishra
Date of Judgment: 06 March 2020

Procedural History
This case was initially heard by the Commissioner, Workmen's Compensation Act/Assistant Labour Commissioner, U.P., Meerut in W.C.A. 294 of 2003. The order was passed on 12th December 2005.

This order was appealed to the Allahabad High Court under Section 30(1) of the Workmen Compensation Act, 1923. Order was passed by Justice Manoj Misra dated 06th May 2014.

This order was appealed (civil appeal number 1836 of 2020) before the Supreme Court. The Division Bench comprising of Justice Ashok Bhushan & Justice Naveen Sinha decided the case on March 06, 2020.

Facts of the Case
The appellant-claimant was a legal heir of deceased Suresh Kumar who was under the employment of Smt. Rajbala (Respondent 02) as a truck driver. The deceased (Suresh Kumar) was 21 years old at the time of death and had salary of Rs 4000/month.

On 11.06.2003 Suresh Kumar (the driver) and Kailash Chandra (the cleaner) were undertaking a journey, under the employment, in a truck from Ambala to Meerut. At about 12.30 PM when the truck approached the Fatehpur Bridge, near Village Fatehpur, P.S. Budia, District Yamuna Nagar, they stopped the vehicle and went to the Yamuna canal to fetch some water and also to have bath. Unfortunately, the deceased, Suresh Kumar slipped into the canal and died.

The copy of the first information report lodged by the husband of the employer; the General Diary entry made at the concerned police station; and the postmortem report suggested that the driver and the cleaner of the truck's death was resulted from drowning.

The vehicle was insured with the respondent insured company. The truck does not have feature of air conditioning. The temperature was touching 42.6 degree Celsius in Yamuna Nagar (Haryana)

Issue Involved
There was only one issue involved in this case:
  • Whether death of the employee was caused due to the accident arising out of and in the course of his employment?
Argument advanced by Appellant
The learned counsel submitted that in the extreme hot temperature of month of June at noon, it can be presumed that the driver went to fetch water from canal not only to cool the vehicle but also to cool himself in order to ensure a proper and safe journey of vehicle belonging to the employer and his own safety. Thus there was a direct connection between the death and employment.

They relied on the case of Leela Bai v Seema Chouhan (2019) 4 SCC 325.

Argument advanced by Respondent
The learned counsel submitted that, merely because death may have occurred in the course of employment is not sufficient unless the act that caused death is incidental and arose out of employment. The counsel submitted that there was no casual connection between the death of deceased with the employment.

They relied on the case of Malikarjuna G. Hiremath v. Oriental Insurance Company Ltd. (2009) 13 SCC 405.

The case was initially decided by the Workmen's Compensation Commissioner of Meerut then adjudicated by the Allahabad High Court and lastly the division bench of the Supreme Court decided the matter.

The Commissioner passed the judgment on December 12, 2005 in which he ordered respondent to pay compensation of Rs. 4,45,420 to the claimant party along with interest @ 12 % from the date of the accident up to the date of deposit. Also a direction was given to the Oriental Insurance Company Ltd. to deposit the compensation amount within thirty days from the date of the order. In addition to above a penalty was imposed on the employer, under section 4A(3)(b) of the Act, to deposit 50% of the said amount.

High Court
The court held that although, it is established that the accident occurred during the course of the employment but it is not proved on record that the accident arose out of the employment.

The High Court passed the judgment on May 06, 2014 in which the court set aside the order/judgment that was passed by the Commissioner on December 12, 2005. The court also allowed appellant to recover the amount, if any, paid or deposited pursuant to the impugned order.

Supreme Court
The Supreme after considering judgments of various previous cases and analyzing the facts of present case held that the theory of notional extension will apply in facts of present case. Thus, act that caused death of employee was incidental to his employment work.

The apex court restored the order passed by Workmen's Compensation Commissioner and the order of High Court was set aside. The court directed that the payment in terms of order of the Workmen's Compensation Commissioner is to be made to the appellant within period of six weeks from order date.

Reasoning of Supreme Court Judgment
The court kept in mind the actual purpose of enactment of Employee Compensation Act 1923. The court viewed it as a legislation that provides social security to employees and held that it has to be interpreted in manner to advance purpose of the act.

Supreme Court scrutinized several previous case laws and also the circumstances that were prevailing in the present case. The Supreme Court observed that in case of Best Undertaking v Agnes AIR 1964 SC 193 it was already settled that the employment does not end when the employee conclude the work or leaves the actual workshop but there is notional extension at both the entry and exit by time and space and such extension depends on circumstances of a case.

The Supreme Court relied on the case of Leela Bai v Seema Chouhan (2019) 4 SCC 325 in which the deceased after completing his journey as a driver stayed on the roof of bus to ensure early scheduled departure in the next morning by not going home. While he was coming down of roof he slipped and died. In this case the court held that the driver was on the roof by compulsion, necessity and because of nature of his duties.

The route timings of the bus required the deceased to be readily available with the bus so that the passenger service provided by Respondent 01 remained efficient. This would naturally benefit the Respondent 01 by the enhancement of income because of timely service. Merely because the deceased was coming down of the roof of the bus after having his meal cannot be considered in isolation of and interpreted so myopically to hold that he was off duty and therefore would not be entitled to compensation.

The Supreme Court held that the case of Malikarjuna G. Hiremath v. Oriental Insurance Company Ltd. (2009) 13 SCC 405 have very different facts from the present case as in that case the deceased after completing his journey went to take bath in pond and while taking bath he slipped and drowned.

The Supreme Court also observed the facts of the present case. The court held that since the deceased was driving the truck of Respondent 02 from Ambala to Meerut, he was in the course of employment. Also it was held by the court that in month of June 2003 during afternoon without any air conditioning facility, the heat in cabin of truck would have been unbearable.

It was compulsory for the deceased to stay fresh and alert not only to protect the truck of Respondent 02 from any damage but to ensure smooth journey and to protect his own life by safe driving. The possibility of the truck requiring water to prevent from over-heating cannot be ruled out completely. Therefore, every action of the driver to ensure safety of the truck that belongs to the Respondent 02 and his own safety by a safe journey has to be considered incidental to his employment by the theory of notional extension.

Section 03(1) states if personal injury is caused to a employee by accident arising out of and in the course of his employment, his employer shall be liable to pay compensation in accordance with the provision of this Chapter. It is easier to understand and decide the liability in case of any personal injury while working in the premises but the term 'accident arising out of and in the course of his employment' gave wide scope to the place of employment and acts incidental to employment.

The court gave very detailed judgment and provides reason for their judgment. The judgment of apex court was based on multiple previous cases which have clarified the position of issue involved in the present case.

The court relied on Best Undertaking v Agnes AIR 1964 SC 193 to explain the concept of doctrine of notional extension. The court stated two more cases Manju Sarkar v Mabish Miah (2014) 14 SCC 21 & Daya Kishan Joshi v. Dynemech System Pvt. Ltd. (2018) 11 SCC 642 in which the principle of notional extension was followed to elucidate the doctrine of notional extension.

The term 'arising out of' denotes the cause of the accident that caused personal injury to employee. 'Arising out of' should not be interpreted in narrow sense and does not only means accident that arises directly from the duties required to be performed by the employee. An accident should have some casual connection with the employment.

This connection does not necessarily merely with the nature of employment but it includes conditions, obligations and incidents of employment. In the English of Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Co. v Highley, the test of determine whether an act 'aroused out of employment' was laid. It was observed by English court if injured person's employment necessitated him to put himself in hazard, to suffer, or to do that act which caused his injury then such act will be arouse out of employment.

In the present case it is clearly stipulated that there was no system of air conditioning in the truck neither the option of opening window would bring any relief at that time of day (around 12.30 pm) also the temperature was 42.6 degree Celsius. All these factors combined together were dangerous for the deceased to continue to drive truck without refreshing himself. Also as the court stated that scenario of truck required to be cool down cannot be excluded rejected. Therefore, the order of apex court was just and appropriate.

This judgment of Supreme Court re-affirmed that the term 'arising out of employment' is not to be interpreted in strict and narrow sense but in wider and liberal sense to fulfill the objective of this piece of legislation that is to secure the interest of workers

The court, in this present case carefully observed the facts and applied the principle of notional extension to give order in favor of claimant-appellant. The Employees Compensation Act 1923 aims to provide compensation to the employees from the employer in case of injury by accident that arises out of or in course of employment. It was enacted to provide benefit to employees and to create an obligation on employer who is generally in better financially position then employee.

The doctrine of notional extension is often used by courts to extend the time and space of employment. The current case is a prime example for the same. The aim of this enactment was not to limit the situation for providing compensation but to provide social security to employees. Thus the application of theory of notional extension was quite apt and the court's decision is correct.

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Sarthak Chauhan
Awarded certificate of Excellence
Authentication No: JL220939367986-28-0722

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