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Assistant Divisional Officer, Kerala Fire & Rescue Services, Kozhikode & Others v/s Vijayalakshmi & Others


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    MFA. No. 110 of 2019

    Decided On, 12 February 2020

    At, High Court of Kerala

    By, THE HONOURABLE MR. JUSTICE DEVAN RAMACHANDRAN

    For the Appellants: Government Pleader. For the Respondents: M.V. Anandan, Sr. GP., R1-R3, R. Sudhish, M. Manju, Advocates.



Judgment Text


1. An employee unfortunately dies of an abrupt heart attack during employment and his dependents, subsequently, sought compensation from the employer under the ambit of the Employee's Compensation Act, 1923.

2. The Compensation Commissioner acceded to the claim of the claimants, which is impugned by the employer through this appeal, contending that the death of an employee on account of a heart attack is not an 'accident' arising in the course of his employment; and therefore, that the claim is beyond the purview of the afore mentioned Act.

3. The contextual factual scenario, in which the rival contentions are embedded, will require a quick glance first.

4. The Assistant Divisional Officer, Kerala Fire and Rescue Services, along with the Sub Inspector of Police, Medical College Police Station, Kozhikode, and the Secretary to Government, Home Department, Government of Kerala, have filed this appeal impugning the order of the Court of Industrial Tribunal & Employees Compensation Commissioner, Kozhikode, in E.C.C.No.652/2014, as per which, an amount of Rs.4,94,813/-, along with eligible interest have been awarded in favour of the respondents herein, who are the legal heirs of deceased Sri.Kanakadasan.

5. The appellants concede that late Sri.Kanakadasan was employed as a Home Guard under the services of the Kerala Fire and Rescue Services on 10.09.2011, when he unfortunately died suffering a cardiac event, but they assert that this was not directly on account of his employment and therefore, that his legal heirs are not entitled to claim any amounts under the provisions of the Employee's Compensation Act, 1923 (hereinafter referred to as the 'Act' for short).

6. The appellants submit that, however, on a claim made by the respondents herein, the Compensation Commissioner has issued the impugned order awarding the aforementioned amount to them and they contend that this order is illegal and unlawful; thus praying that this appeal be allowed, setting aside the said order.

7. I have heard Sri.M.V.Anandan, learned Senior Government Pleader, appearing on behalf of the appellants and Smt.M.Manju, learned counsel appearing for the respondents.

8. Sri.M.V.Anandan, learned Senior Government Pleader, began his submissions asserting that the mere factum of late Sri.Kanakadasan having suffered a heart attack would not make the appellants liable to pay compensation under Section 4 of the Act, since such liability will statutorily arise only if a personal injury is caused to the employee by accident arising out of and in the course of his employment, as is provided under Section 3 of the said Act.

9. The learned Senior Government Pleader, thereafter, vehemently submits that the evidence on record and the materials available would not show any casual connection between the death of late Sri.Kanakadasan and his employment; and therefore, that the Compensation Commissioner ought not to have issued the impugned order. In substantiation of his contentions, he relies on the judgment of the Hon'ble Supreme Court in Shakuntala v. Prabhakar [2006 (4) KLT 1031] and ESI Corporation v. Francis De Costa [1996 (2) KLT 799] and reiteratingly prays that this appeal be allowed.

10. Smt.M.Manju, learned counsel appearing for the respondents, on the contrary, began submissions relying on the judgment of this Court in National Insurance Company Ltd. v. P.V.Sheeja and others [2011 (3) KHC 642] and she pointed out to me that the declaration of law in the said judgment is to the effect that when a workmen dies unexpectedly during the course of employment without any pre-existing disease, it must be construed to be an 'accident' under the ambit of Section 3 of the Act and hence that, in the present case, the Compensation Commissioner was without error in having issued the impugned order.

11. Smt.M.Manju, fortifies her afore submissions by showing me that the documents on record, particularly Exts.B3, B4 and A2, would establish beyond doubt that late Sri.Kanakadasan had no pre-existing disease at the time when he was drafted into the services of the Fire and Rescue Department as a Home Guard; and she contends that this is ineluctable because, Ext.A2 identity card would show that he was appointed only on 13.02.2011, being a mere ten days before his unfortunate death. She further submitted that, going by the Kerala Home Guard Rules, provisions of which had been amended through Ext.B4 notification, a person who aspires to be appointed as a Home Guard must satisfactorily complete a physical efficiency test, which comprises of 100 mtrs run - to be completed in 18 seconds; and a 3 KM walk -to be completed in 30 minutes. She says that late Sri.Kanakadasan, had completed these tests satisfactorily and that it was only thereafter, that he was issued Ext.A2 identity card on 30.08.2011, thus making it beyond doubt that he had no pre-existing diseases and that he was medically fit.

12. Smt.M.Manju then added to the above by emphasizing that in Ext.B3 notification, the Government has made it very clear that only a person who is found to be of normal health and is, in the opinion of the commandant, physically fit, will be eligible to be appointed as a Home Guard; thus asserting that late Sri.Kanakadasan cannot even be suspected of suffering from any pre-existing disease because he was, concededly, appointed on 30.08.2011, a mere ten days before he died.

13. The learned counsel then contended that the death of late Sri.Kanakadasan was certainly on account of his employment because he had been deputed on 10.09.2011 to control the large crowd at a liquor outlet operated by the Kerala Beverages Corporation at Kottooli, Kozhikode, which was a day after Onam; and that the stress of having to manage an extremely large and unruly mob had a fatal impact on him, leading to a heart attack at about 08.45 p.m., to which he succumbed nearly half an hour later. She says that, therefore, the undeniable casual connection between the death of late Sri.Kanakadasan and his employment is evident and self speaking; and thus prays that this appeal may not be entertained by this court.

14. I have considered the afore submissions and have also read the precedents relied upon by the learned counsel as afore.

15. In Sankuthala (supra), relied upon by the learned Senior Government Pleader, the Hon'ble Supreme Court was considering whether the mere factum of a heart attack would lead to an automatic conclusion that an 'accident' had occurred, resulting in injury; and the specific conclusions of the Hon'ble Court on this issue is available in paragraph 32 of the judgment, which is reproduced as under:

“32. Only because a person dies of heart attack, the same does not give rise to automatic presumption that the same was by way of accident. A person may be suffering from a heart disease although he may not be aware of the same. Medical opinion will be of relevance providing guidance to court in this behalf.”

16. In ESI Corporation (supra), which is also relied upon by the learned Government Pleader, the principles that should govern the grant of compensation in cases like this have been spoken about affirmatively by the Hon'ble Supreme Court in paragraph No.29 thereof, which requires a full reading and is therefore, extracted as under:

“29. Although the facts of this case are quite dissimilar, the principles laid down in this case, are instructive and should be borne in mind. In order to succeed, it has to be proved by the employee that (1) there was an accident, (2) the accident had a casual connection with the employment and (3) the accident must have been suffered in course of employment. In the facts of this case, we are of the view that the employee was unable to prove that the accident had any casual connection with the work he was doing at the factory and in any event, it was not suffered in the course of employment. “

17. When one understands the true import of the judgments afore, particularly the above extracted opinion of the Hon'ble Supreme Court, it certainly becomes indubitable that the mere factum of a heart attack may not automatically lead to a presumption of an “accident” for the purpose of the Act, particularly because a person may be suffering from a coronary disease and not be aware of the same. The Hon'ble Supreme Court has said, therefore, that the medical opinion in such cases will be of great relevance and can provide guidance to Courts in this regard. Of course, this is in addition to the imperative requirements that the claimant must prove that there was an accident; that the accident had a casual connection with the employment; and that the accident occurred in the course of employment.

18. Before I proceed further, the judgment cited by Smt.M.Manju is also of great relevance. In P.V.Sheeja (supra), a learned Division Bench of this Court, relying upon an earlier judgment, opined in paragraph 8 thereof as under:

“S.3 of the Act, in essence, provides for liability with the employer on the existence of the following indispensable elements:

There must be a personal injury caused; it should be to an employee by accident and it should arise out of and in the course of his employment. If these conditions are satisfied, the employer would become liable to pay compensation. The word 'accident' has been considered by this court in Shah v. Rajankutty, 2005 KHC 1193 : 2005 (3) KLT 1014 : ILR 2005 (3) Ker. 843 : 2005 (3) KLJ 192. Therein, the Court held as follows:

'Accident is not defined in the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1923. Therefore, the word 'accident' should be understood in the popular and ordinary sense as denoting 'an unlooked for mishap or an untoward event which is not expected or designed'. A death due to a natural disease (other than an occupational disease) is not an accident. Death of a workman by disease is not synonymous with accident. It is a natural death and not accident. But, the sudden death from the point of view of workman, who dies unexpectedly during the course of employment, without any disease is an 'accident'. Self inflicted injuries and suicide are not accidents. Here, the workman fell down with head load, collapsed and died due to heart failure.

Thereafter, the Court also observed as follows, in regard to the question as to the connection required between the employment and death;

'It is true that even if the 'death' is an accident on claimant's point of view, to get compensation, it must be in the course of employment and arising out of employment. Here, there is no dispute that the death was during the course of employment. Question is whether it is arising out of employment. The accident which resulted in the injury or death, must be connected with the employment and must arise out of it; there must be casual connection or association between the employment and the accidental injury. Only a casual connection or nexus is necessary. It is an admitted case that while carrying cashew bags, he fell down and, consequently, he died, even though ultimately his heart failed. Falling down while carrying cashew bags is an accident and that is the immediate cause which has accelerated the death of the workman. Therefore, he died due to personal injuries caused in an accident arising out of and in the course of employment.”

19. When I examine the facts of this case, it does not require much expatiation to conclude that late Sri.Kanakadasan died of an abrupt heart-attack, while being employed as an Home Guard deputed to control large crowds in a liquor outlet operated by the Beverages Corporation, since these facts are conceded. In fact, the learned Senior Government Pleader affirms that the appellants accept these facts; but contends that the mere factum of late Sri.Kanakadasan having suffered an heart attack ought not to have automatically led to a conclusion by the Compensation Commissioner that it was on account of the stress and strain during employment.

20. The answer to the afore submission of the learned Senior Government Pleader is implicit in the afore-extracted opinion of the Hon'ble Supreme Court in Shakuntala (supra) itself. As their Lordships have clearly opined therein, a person certainly may be suffering from a heart disease without being aware of it and therefore, that the evidence, including medical evidence, becomes crucial.

21. Though in this case no medical evidence had been lead by either side to show that late Sri.Kanakadasan was not suffering from a pre-existing coronary disease, the fact that he was appointed as a Home Guard on 30.08.2011, after undergoing rigorous physical eligibility test as mentioned above and the fact that he was found to be a man of normal health - without any latent or patent medical concerns - would clearly establish that he was not suffering from any disease, let alone coronary disease. Had it been otherwise and had he been suffering from any indisposition, it would have been easily exposed at the time he went through the physical endurance exercises; and consequently, the observations of this Court in P.V.Sheeja (supra) becomes absolutely vital. As has been decided therein, the factum of an abrupt heart attack (without history of an earlier disease) during employment construes th

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e character of an “accident” under the Act and that the claimants are, resultantly, entitled to seek compensation under its provisions. 22. It is without doubt that in the facts presented herein and as noticed by the Compensation Commissioner, late Sri.Kanakadasan died of a cardiac arrest while he was employed to control the crowds at an outlet operated by the Beverages Corporation; and since the evidence on record luculently shows that he had absolutely no history of medical concerns in the past, it can only be concluded - as has been rightly done by the Compensation Commissioner - that he died of an accident in the course of his employment, thus entitling the claimants to the compensation as has been ordered in the impugned order. In the afore circumstances, I see no reason to interfere with the order of the Compensation Commissioner impugned herein; and I, consequently, dismiss this appeals, however, without making any order as to costs. After I dictated this judgment, the learned Senior Government Pleader prayed that the interest awarded in the impugned order be reduced. I am afraid that I cannot accede to this request either because no such plea has been raised in this appeal - the only issue having been raised being that the death of Sri.Kanakadasan cannot be construed to be an accident on account of his employment. In any event, I cannot find the interest awarded to be excessive or unlawful and for that reason also, I reject this request.
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