1. Can an insurer defeat a claim arising under a motor accident on the ground that the driver who was driving a taxi, though holding a valid licence, did not have an endorsement on it enabling him to drive a taxi?
2. The victim, Pesh Imam of Macca Masjid of Shah Tajammul HUssain shah Trust Baba Dargah Trust, aged 48, met with a fatal motor accident as a result of collision with a taxi No. MRR 2560 driven by one Ranjitsingh Thakur. The dependents of the deceased. Pesh Imam, filed Application No.216 of 1972 before the Additional Motor Accident claims Tribunal for Greater BOMBAY , for damages, showing Rajmal, the taxi owner, and the insurance company as the opposite parties. The Tribunal found against the insurer and ordered payment of Rs. 14, 800 as compensation to there heirs of the deceased. The insurer appealed.
3. The insurer has not dispute the factum of negligence and he stands or falls on the finding,as to whether the person driving held a licence to 'driver the motor vehicle'.
4. The motor vehicle Act, 1939 ('the Act'). divides th motor vehicles into ' contract carriage' under section 2(3), 'goods vehicle' under section 2(8). ' heavy goods vehicle' under section 2(9), 'heavy passenger motor vehicle' under section 2(9A), 'light motor vehicle' under section 2(13), and 'motor cab' under section 2(15). Under sub- section (25) of section 2 of the Act, 'public service vehicle' means any motor vehicle used or adapted to be used for the carriage of passengers for hire or reward, an includes a motor cab, contract carriage and stage carriage. Sub-section (33) of section 2 of the Act defines 'transport vehicle ' to mean a public service vehicle or a good vehicle.
5. It is common ground that the vehicle in question, viz., MRR 2560, was a Fiat car which was being used as a taxi , and, consequently , would be public service vehicle. It also falls under the comprehensive definition to a transport vehicle.
6. Section 3 of the Act prohibits a person from driving a motor vehicle in a public place unless 'he holds an effective driving licence'. The owner is charged under section 5 with the responsibility of seeing to it that no one drivers the motor vehicle who does not satisfy the provision of the Act.
7. Chapter II of the Bombay Motor Vehicle Rules, 1959, s devoted to the setting up of the licensing machinery. Rule 4 prohibits a person from driving a public service vehicle unless an authorisation in Form D to the Act has been obtained. Form D in th First Schedule to the Act proscribes a format of a driving licence giving personal information about the driver. At the bottom of the form, an authorisation a transport vehicle i s to be signed by the prescribed authority. The authorisation reads that so long as the licence is valid and is renewed from time to time, the holder is authorised to driver a transport vehicle.
8. Rules 4 gives the details of the manner in which an authorisation to drive a public service vehicle is to be granted. An applicant has to apply under Form L.P.S.A. along with a copy of his driving licence. The licensing authority under clause 4 has to satisfy itself that the applicant has at least two years' experience in driving a motor vehicle other than a motor cycle. This period can be reduced by the State Government. The licensing authority may make enquires about the character, antecedents of the applicant and may also put him to a fresh driving testy. If the applicant intends to drive motor cab in Bombay, Poona or Nagpur, the licensing authority has to satisfy itself that the applicant has adequate knowledge of the topography of that city and working knowledge of Marathi and Hindi.
9. Under section 96(2)(b)(ii), a condition excluding driving by any person 'who is not duly licensed'. , is one of the legal grounds of defence available able to an insurer. This provision has not been verbatim incorporated into the policy. The insurer, instead, insists that the person driving held a licence to drive the motor vehicle. The insurer argues that the expressions 'a licence to drive the motor vehicle' implies a licence to drive a public service vehicle, i.e., a motor cab, which , - so the argument proceeds - the driver, Thakur, in the instant case, did not have , in view of the want of endorsement on the licence.
10. It seems to me that expression 'held a licence to drive the motor vehicle' appearing in the policy refer more to the type of vehicles rather than the mode of its user. The vehicle in question was a Fiat car which was light motor vehicle. In addition, he also had more than two years driving experience which experience would have entitled him to obtain the required endorsement on a licence as a matter of routine. No doubt, he has broken one of the prescriptions of the Act that the shall not drive a motor cab unless he holds an endorsement on the licence. So far as the driving abilities are concerned, it matters little whether a driver has adequate knowledge's of Hindi or Marathi or about the topography if the city where he is driving the plane for hire an makes for better facilities for the passenger.
11. A similar technical plea was raised without success in Rendeham v. Dunne: Pennine Insurance Co. Ltd. (third party) 1 Lloyd's Report, 192, where the insurer tried to defeat the claim because the driver who was a holder of a provisional licence had not complied with the condition of the licence of driving with a licensed driver by his side. in Houghton v. Trafalgar Insurance Co. Ltd. (1954) 1 QB 247, dismissing argument s arising out of ambiguities in the policy documents, it was observed that if there is any ambiguity, the ambiguity y will been resolved in favour of the assured. Likewise, here. If the Intention of the insurer was to exclude any claim when the vehicle at the time of accident was being driven by a person who did not hold a licence with all the required endorsement as per the Act or the Rules made thereunder, he could have said so in Plain and unambiguous words in the said policy itself.
12. To conclude, I find that the learned member of the Motor Accidents, Claims Tribunal was right in allowing the claim as he did. The appeal, therefore, fails and is dismissed with costs.