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Dhaka Tribune

Upholding justice made simpler

Analyzing the role of tort law in compensating victims of road accidents

Update : 07 Mar 2024, 10:31 AM

Road accidents continue to be a significant concern in Bangladesh, where tort law functions as an essential mechanism to ensure victims receive justice and compensation. The legislative structure incorporates clauses that enable victims to fight for compensation from the negligent entities accountable for the incidents. 

The use of tort law in order to determine liability and grant compensation is substantiated by case precedents in Bangladesh. However, legislative reforms are imperative to improve the efficacy of tort law in handling the intricacies of road accident cases, as evidenced by challenges such as extensive legal proceedings and insufficient insurance coverage. 

The objective is to create a safer and more equal society by enhancing the legal framework, raising consciousness in order to and promoting conscientious driving practices, all of which help minimize the consequences of road accidents and ensure victims receive just compensation.

During the year 2023, road accidents in Bangladesh claimed the lives of 7,902 individuals. A total of 520 accidents occurred in the railway sector, which resulted in 512 fatalities and 475 injuries. In contrast, 148 incidents involving waterway accidents led to 91 fatalities, 152 injuries, and 109 missing persons. The victims comprised a diverse array of individuals, such as pedestrians, drivers, students, instructors, and law enforcement personnel, among others. 

It goes without saying that efforts to improve road safety must be undertaken immediately in order to avert additional catastrophic losses in Bangladesh.

In accordance with tort law, entities and individuals who commit unlawful acts that result in the injury or detriment of others are legally liable. Employers take responsibility for the conduct of their employees while they are on the job, as established by the tort law principle of vicarious liability. By applying this principle, the range of liability is broader, permitting individuals who have been injured in motor vehicle collisions to pursue reparation not solely from negligent operators but also from the organizations that furnish them.

Assigned liability to those who fail to exercise a reasonable degree of care and cause damage to others, negligence is a fundamental concept in tort law. Drivers who violate traffic regulations, perform hazardous actions, or operate motor vehicles while under the influence can face legal responsibility for the injuries and damages they inflict in the event of a collision. By fostering accountability and responsibility within the broader context of tort law, the application of these principles seeks to guarantee victims a fair and just legal remedy.

Vicarious liability is a fundamental tort law principle where entities and individuals may be held liable for the negligent actions of others who are under their supervision or control. In the landmark case Catherine Masud and Ors v Md Kashed Mia and Ors (70 DLR), where the owners of a bus company were held vicariously liable for a fatal accident caused by their driver, this principle was demonstrated. Its significance in the transportation industry was further emphasized.

Furthermore, the doctrine of negligence is acknowledged in tort law. This means that people have an obligation of care towards others and can be held legally responsible if they fail to fulfill this duty, leading to foreseeably severe damage. The legal precedent-setting ruling in Bangladesh Beverage Industries Ltd v Rowsan Akhter (69 DLR 129) held the employer vicariously liable for a fatal accident resulting from their employee's negligence. This case underscored the obligation of employers to ensure the secure working conditions of their employees.

Although tort law has been important in providing compensation to victims of road accidents in Bangladesh, the existing legal framework presents challenges and restrictions. While the Motor Vehicles Ordinance of 1963 and the Fatal Accident Act of 1865 establish channels for pursuing compensation, their efficacy is impeded by intricacies in the application process and insufficient enforcement.

The Road Transport Act of 2018 was recently implemented with the intention of updating the legal structure that regulates road safety and the prevention of accidents. Nevertheless, deficiencies in the execution and application of the legislation have impeded its efficacy in ensuring that road accident victims receive prompt and sufficient reparation. Complicated and unqualified provisions, such as the establishment of a Financial Assistance Fund, result in inequities and delays in the allocation of compensation.

Road accident victims and their families have recourse to seek compensation for losses sustained as a result of the Fatal Accident Act of 1865 and the Motor Vehicles Ordinance of 1963. As a result of the absence or insufficiency of insurance coverage, vehicle proprietors are subject to "no-fault liability" under Section 119(1) of the Motor Vehicles Ordinance. Furthermore, in accordance with the Fatal Accident Act, bereaved family members are granted the right to initiate legal proceedings in pursuit of reparation, including damages such as loss of dependency.

The Road Transport Act of 2018, with its complex structure and absence of explicitness, might deter victims from initiating claims. The limitation imposed by Section 61(4) on the filing of lawsuits seeking compensation in civil courts gives rise to apprehensions regarding accessibility and equity. It is indisputable that the Road Transport Act of 2018 requires amendments in order to conform to the pragmatic demands of providing adequate compensation to victims.

In Bangladesh, the Motor Vehicles Ordinance of 1963, the Fatal Accident Act of 1865, and the Road Transport Act of 2018 communicate in a complex manner with regard to compensation for road accident victims. Tort law principles, including vicarious liability, have been effectively implemented in pivotal cases. 

However, in order to guarantee victims fair and efficient compensation, the ever-changing legal framework necessitates a thorough evaluation. In order to address the intricacies and maintain the applicability and efficacy of tort law in Bangladesh with regard to compensating victims of road accidents, it is critical to make revisions to the current legislation.

Md Naeem is a freelance contributor and a student of Law and Human Rights.

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