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Accident – Meaning of

A line of precedents, have dealt with the meaning of the expression “accident”. In Union of India v. Sunil Kumar Ghosh, (1984) 4 SCC 246 it was held that:

“An accident is an occurrence or an event which is unforeseen and startles one when it takes place but does not startle one when it does not take place. It is the happening of the unexpected, not the happening of the expected, which is called an accident. In other words, an event or occurrence the happening of which is ordinarily expected in the normal course by almost everyone undertaking a rail journey cannot be called an “accident”. But the happening of something which is not inherent in the normal course of events, and which is not ordinarily expected to happen or occur, is called a mishap or an accident.”

In a subsequent decision in ESI Corpn. v. Francis De Costa , 1993 Supp (4) SCC 100, the expression “accident” was defined as follows:

“The popular and ordinary sense of the word “accident” means the mishap or an untoward happening not expected and designed to have an occurrence is an accident. It must be regarded as an accident, from the point of view of the workman who suffers from it, that its occurrence is unexpected and without design on his part, although either intentionally caused by the author of the act or otherwise.”

The same principle was adopted in Jyothi Ademma v. Plant Engineer , (2006) 5 SCC 513, where it was held as under :

“The expression “accident” means an untoward mishap which is not expected or designed.”

P. Ramanatha Aiyar’s Law Lexicon, 3rd Edn., 2012, defines the expression “accident”:

“an event that takes place without one’s foresight or expectation; and event that proceeds from an unknown cause, or is an unusual effect of a known cause, and therefore not expected, chance, causality, contingency.”

The above Law Lexicon, relying on Lovelace v. Travelers’ Protective Assn., 47 Am St Rep 638 : 126 Mo 104 (1894), defines the expression “death by accident” as:

“Death from any unexpected event which happens, as by chance, or which does not take place according to the usual course of things.”

In order to constitute an accident, the event must be in the nature of an occurrence which is unnatural, unforeseen or unexpected.     National Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Mousumi Bhattacharjee, (2019) 5 SCC 391

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