Kerala HC Full Bench overrules 3-Judge Bench: Absence of fitness certificate to vehicle is a fundamental breach by insured; entitles insurer with right to recovery

Kerala High Court: A Full Bench of Kerala High Court comprising of CJ Hrishikesh Roy P.R. Ramachandra Menon, A.K. Jayasankaran Nambiar, Anil K. Narendran and Devan Ramachandran, JJ. while a reference held that non-possession of a valid fitness certificate for a vehicle constitutes fundamental breach of insurance policy, entitling the insurer to exercise ‘pay and recover’ option in compensation cases arising out of accidents caused by such vehicles.

The five-judge bench was considering the correctness of a three-judge bench judgment in Augustine v. Ayyappankutty, 2015 SCC OnLine Ker 14898 where it was held that absence of permit/ fitness certificate to a transport vehicle is only a technical breach.

The Court went through the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (MV Act) dealing with requirement of permits and/ or fitness certificate and discerned the intention of Legislature behind incorporating the said provisions.

It was noted that as per Section 149(2)(c) of MV Act, an insurer is not bound to pay the insured amount in case the vehicle being used does not have a valid transport permit. Section 66 stipulates that any registered motor vehicle must have a valid permit in order for putting the same on road. The necessity of having a ‘certificate of fitness’ is prescribed under Section 54, and Section 56 of the MV Act also states that a transport vehicle will not be deemed as validly registered if it does not possess a certificate of fitness. Section 84 prescribes general conditions attached to all permits; and Rule 47(1)(g) of the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989 stipulates that an application for registration of a vehicle must be mandatorily accompanied by a road worthiness certificate.

The Bench observed that “Certificate of Registration, existence of valid Permit and availability of Fitness Certificate, all throughout, are closely interlinked in case of a transport vehicle and one requirement cannot be segregated from another”. It was
noted that the abovementioned provisions clearly substantiated the importance and necessity of having a fitness certificate to a transport vehicle at all times. Assurance of a vehicle being completely fit to be plied on the road assumes importance in relation to the life and limb of people traveling in the vehicle, pedestrians, and other vehicles.

Relying on the aforesaid reasoning and judgment of the Apex Court in Amrit Paul Singh v. TATA AIG General Insurance Co. Ltd., (2018) 7 SCC 558 the High Court held that any lapse by the owner of the vehicle in relation to possession of a valid fitness certificate would amount to a fundamental breach enabling the insurer to recover the relevant amount from the insured. On that holding, the judgment in Augustine v. Ayyappankutty, 2015 SCC OnLine Ker 14898 was set aside. [Ramankutty v. Pareed Pillai,2018 SCC OnLine Ker 3542, decided on 09-10-2018]

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