Transfer Of Vehicle Invalid If Not Registered With Authority-Owner On Record Liable [ACCIDENT CLAIM]

Section 2(30) of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 indicates that the person in whose name a motor vehicle is registered is the owner and the only two exceptions to that principle are where such a person is a minor or where the subject vehicle is under a hire purchase agreement.

Person in possession of the vehicle under a hypothecation agreement was to be treated as the owner. Position has been clarified by holding that where notwithstanding the sale of a vehicle, neither the transferor nor the transferee have taken any step for change in the name of owner in the certificate of registration, the person in whose name the registration stands must be deemed to continue as the owner of the vehicle for the purposes of the Act

The person in whose name a motor vehicle stands registered is the owner of the vehicle for the purposes of the Act. The use of the expression ‘means’ is a clear indication of the position that it is the registered owner who Parliament has regarded as the owner of the vehicle. In the earlier Act of 1939, the expression ‘owner’ was defined in Section 2(19) as follows:

  • 11…2. (19) ‘owner’ means, where the person in possession of a motor vehicle is a minor, the guardian of such minor, and in relation to a motor vehicle which is the subject of a hire-purchase agreement, the person in possession of the vehicle under that agreement.”







The submission of the Petitioner is that a failure to intimate the transfer will only result in a fine under Section 50(3) but will not invalidate the transfer of the vehicle. In Dr T V Jose, this Court observed that there can be transfer of title by payment of consideration and delivery of the car. But for the purposes of the Act, the person whose name is reflected in the records of the registering authority is the owner. The owner within the meaning of Section 2(30) is liable to compensate. The mandate of the law must be fulfilled.

The subsequent decision of a Bench of three judges of this Court in HDFC Bank Limited v Reshma (supra) involved an agreement of hypothecation. The Tribunal held the financier of the vehicle to jointly and severally liable together with the owner on the ground that it was under an obligation to ensure that the borrower had not neglected to get the vehicle insured. The High Court had dismissed the appeal filed by the Bank against the order of the Tribunal holding it liable together with the owner. In the appeal before this Court, Justice Dipak Misra (as the learned Chief Justice then was) 12 adverted during the course of the judgment to the principles laid down by this Court in several earlier decisions, including of this Court6 . Noticing that the case before the court involved a hypothecation agreement, this Court held:

“22. In the present case, as the facts have been unfurled, the appellant Bank had financed the owner for purchase of the vehicle and the owner had entered into a hypothecation agreement with the Bank. The borrower had the initial obligation to insure the vehicle, but without insurance he plied the vehicle on the road and the accident took place. Had the vehicle been insured, the insurance company would have been liable and not the owner. There is no cavil over the fact that the vehicle was the subject of an agreement of hypothecation and was in possession and control of Respondent 2.”(id at page 693)

Since the Second respondent was in control and possession of the vehicle this Court held that the High Court was in error in fastening the liability on the financier. The failure of the Second respondent to effect full payment for obtaining an insurance cover was neither known to the financier nor was there any collusion on its part. Consequently, the High Court was held to be in error in fastening liability on the financier.

We allow the appeal and direct that the liability to compensate the claimants in terms of the judgment of the Tribunal will stand fastened upon the First respondent. The judgment of the High Court is set aside. In the circumstances of the case, there shall be no order as to costs