Hoskote. East Bengaluru. March 22, 2016. The case of 22-year-old Kishore Kumar, whose bike was hit by an unidentified vehicle and who was turned away by two private hospitals in the city, was reported by several local media. The first hospital reportedly refused treatment to the victim, as he was unaccompanied by family members or any persons known to him and had been taken to the hospital by a good samaritan.
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Cut to a year later. On March 17, 2017, The Indian Express reported the case of Sunil Patra who was critically injured when a truck rammed into his motorcycle in Kolkata. Once again, the victim was allegedly denied treatment by two private hospitals, the first on grounds of inadequate expertise or facilities, and the second citing prohibitive costs.
Search the worldwide web for cases of accident victims in India being denied treatment upon being taken to the nearest hospital, and results are not few and far between. While the reasons cited could be anything, those who have observed such incidents up close say that often when an accident victim is brought in by a good samaritan, there is a cloud over who would bear the cost of treatment, leading to hospitals dithering over immediate treatment.
In a landmark judgment on March 30, 2016, the Supreme Court incorporated the guidelines for the protection of bystanders who helped accident victims and took them to the nearest medical centre, and in the same also explicitly stated that lack of response by a doctor in an emergency situation pertaining to road accidents shall constitute “Professional Misconduct”, under the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulation, 2002. Disciplinary action shall be taken against such doctors. However, awareness and implementation of the guidelines is evidently not pervasive enough yet, as the case of Sunil Patra would show.
To minimise instances where cost concerns lead to delay or refusal of treatment to an accident victim, along with greater awareness and enforcement of the above, there is also a pressing need to clarify the legal provisions that exist for compensation to accident victims. More so in a country that enjoys the dubious distinction of being one with the highest number of road crash related fatalities.
Motor Vehicle Insurance
India’s road safety statistics never fails to shock in its enormity. Over 1.3 million people in India have been killed in road crashes in the last ten years. Another 5 million plus have been seriously injured or disabled over the same period. One of the ways for accident victims in India to be compensated is through motor vehicle insurance which can be categorised under two heads — own damage (OD) that covers any physical damage to the vehicle, and third party liability (TP) that provides for injury or death of others involved in the accident.
The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 made third party insurance compulsory for all motor vehicles. Under that law, the liability of the insurer in third party claims is unlimited, that is, he has to compensate road accident victims to the extent of actual amount of liability incurred.
However, recognising the inadequacy of the 1988 Act to address the many and complex systemic challenges plaguing the road and transport sector, and road safety in particular, the NDA government has drafted an amended law that looks at an overhaul of policy on several fronts. Under this Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill 2016 (pending in Parliament since August 2016), third party insurance claims have been capped to a sum not exceeding Rs 10 lakh in case of death and Rs 5 lakh in case of grievous hurt.
The Solatium Fund
While motor vehicle insurance is something that all vehicle owners are covered by, not many are aware of the recourse available to them under the existing law in case of ‘hit and run’ accidents. Incidentally, in 2015 alone, there were 57,083 cases of hit-and-run accidents resulting in 20,709 deaths. Very few know of the Solatium Scheme of the government, under which hit and run victims are entitled to compensation of Rs. 12,500 in cases of grievous hurt and Rs. 25,000 in cases of death.
In fact, if the proposed Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill 2016 mentioned earlier is enacted into law, the amount of such compensation could go up to Rs. 50,000 or higher in cases of grievous injury and to Rs. 2 lakh or higher in cases of death.
But what exactly is the Solatium Scheme and how does one get compensated under it? Read our guide to the Solatium Scheme for the detailed procedure.