The Supreme Court of India in Surendra Kumar Bhilawe v. The New India Assurance Company , observed that it is the person in whose name the motor vehicle stands registered on the date of the accident would be treated as the owner of the vehicle, for the purpose of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.
The case was filed out of an insurance claim made by Surendra Kumar Bhilawe i.e. Appellant which was denied by the respondent company, followed by a consumer complaint by the Appellant. Though the appeal filed by the insurance company was dismissed by the State Consumer Disputes Reprisal Commission (“State Commission”), the National Commission held that when an owner sells his vehicle and executes a sale letter, the ownership of the vehicle passes on to the purchaser and the owner cannot claim insurance.
The Appellant being aggrieved by the National Commission order preferred an appeal before the Supreme Court of India. The bench comprising Justices R. Banumathi and Indira Banerjee overruled the judgement of the National Commission on the ground that the National Consumer Commission had overlooked the definition of ‘owner’ in Section 2(30) of the Motor Vehicle Act, 1988. The bench added that it is abstruse to accept that a person who has transferred the ownership of a vehicle, continues to incur the risks and liabilities of ownership of the vehicle under the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 and other criminal or penal laws against the present owner, for operating the vehicle without a valid permit.
The bench consequently added, “The dictum of this Court that the registered owner continues to remain owner and when the vehicle is insured in the name of the registered owner, the insurer would remain liable notwithstanding any transfer, would apply equally in the case of claims made by the insured himself in case of an accident. If the insured continues to remain the owner in law in view of the statutory provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 and in particular Section 2(30) thereof, the insurer cannot evade its liability in case of an accident.”