In an important ruling, the Supreme Court of India held that a claimant is entitled to recover entire compensation from one of the joint tort feasors, particularly in an accident where injuries have been caused by combined wrongful act of joint tort feasors.
“In a case of accident caused by negligence of joint tort feasors, all the persons who aid or counsel or direct or join in committal of a wrongful act, are liable. In such case, the liability is always joint and several. The extent of negligence of joint tort feasors in such a case is immaterial for satisfaction of the claim of the plaintiff/claimant and need not be determined by the court”, a Large Bench of the Court clarified after reviewing a plethora of earlier rulings on the subject matter.
The Court carved out the below position of law on the subject matter for clarity: –
(i) In the case of composite negligence, plaintiff/claimant is entitled to sue both or any one of the joint tort feasors and to recover the entire compensation as liability of joint tort feasors is joint and several.
(ii) In the case of composite negligence, apportionment of compensation between two tort feasors vis a vis the plaintiff/claimant is not permissible. He can recover at his option whole damages from any of them.
(iii) In case all the joint tort feasors have been impleaded and evidence is sufficient, it is open to the court/tribunal to determine inter se extent of composite negligence of the drivers. However, determination of the extent of negligence between the joint tort feasors is only for the purpose of their inter se liability so that one may recover the sum from the other after making whole of payment to the plaintiff/claimant to the extent it has satisfied the liability of the other. In case both of them have been impleaded and the apportionment/ extent of their negligence has been determined by the court/tribunal, in main case one joint tort feasor can recover the amount from the other in the execution proceedings.
(iv) It would not be appropriate for the court/tribunal to determine the extent of composite negligence of the drivers of two vehicles in the absence of impleadment of other joint tort feasors. In such a case, impleaded joint tort feasor should be left, in case he so desires, to sue the other joint tort feasor in independent proceedings after passing of the decree or award.