Mahakali Sujatha vs Branch Manager, Future Generali India Life Insurance Company Limited 2024 INSC 296 – Insurance Law- Burden Of Proof

Insurance Law -In the context of insurance contracts, the burden is on the insurer to prove the allegation of non-disclosure of a material fact and that the non-disclosure was fraudulent. Thus, the burden of proving the fact, which excludes the liability of the insurer to pay compensation, lies on the insurer alone and no one else. (Para 45)

Insurance Law -Basic rules to be observed in making a proposal for insurance summarized: (a) A fair and reasonable construction must be put upon the language of the question which is asked, and the answer given will be similarly construed. This involves close attention to the language used in either case, as the question may be so framed that an unqualified answer amounts to an assertion by the proposer that he has knowledge of the facts and that the knowledge is being imparted. However, provided these canons are observed, accuracy in all matters of substance will suffice and misstatements or omissions in trifling and insubstantial respects will be ignored. (b) Carelessness is no excuse, unless the error is so obvious that no one could be regarded as misled. If the proposer puts ‘no’ when he means ‘yes’ it will not avail him to say it was a slip of the pen; the answer is plainly the reverse of the truth. (c) An answer which is literally accurate, so far as it extends, will not suffice if it is misleading by reason of what is not stated. It may be quite accurate for the proposer to state that he has made a claim previously on an insurance company, but the answer is untrue if in fact he has made more than one.(d) Where the space for an answer is left blank, leaving the question un-answered, the reasonable inference may be that there is nothing to enter as an answer. If in fact there is something to enter as an answer, the insurers are misled in that their reasonable inference is belied. It will then be a matter of construction whether this is a mere non-disclosure, the proposer having made no positive statement at all, or whether in substance he is to be regarded as having asserted that there is in fact nothing to state. (e) Where an answer is unsatisfactory, as being on the face of it incomplete or inconsistent the insurers may, as reasonable men, be regarded as put on inquiry, so that if they issue a policy without any further enquiry they are assumed to have waived any further information. However, having regard to the inference mentioned in head (4) above, the mere leaving of a blank space will not normally be regarded as sufficient to put the insurers on inquiry. (f) A proposer may find it convenient to bracket together two or more questions and give a composite answer. There is no objection to his doing so, provided the insurers are given adequate and accurate information on all points covered by the questions. (g) Any answer given, however accurate and honest at the time it was written down, must be corrected if, up to the time of acceptance of the proposal, any event or circumstance supervenes to make it inaccurate or misleading. (Para 30)

Insurance Law- “Uberrimae fidei”– The principle of utmost good faith puts reciprocal duties of disclosure on both parties to the contract of insurance. These reciprocal duties mandate that both the parties make complete disclosure to each other, so that the parties can take an informed decision and a fair contract of insurance exists between them. No material facts should be suppressed, which may have a bearing on the risk being insured and the decision of the party to undertake that risk. However, not every question can be said to be material fact and the materiality of a fact has to be adjudged as per the rules. (Para 32)

Indian Evidence Act , 1872- Burden of Proof – Consumer Fora -Though the proceedings before the Consumer Fora are in the nature of a summary proceeding. Yet the elementary principles of burden of proof and onus of proof would apply.- the burden of proving a fact rests on the party who substantially asserts the affirmative of the issue and not upon the party who denies it; for a negative is usually incapable of proof. Simply put, it is easier to prove an affirmative than a negative. In other words, the burden of proving a fact always lies upon the person who asserts the same. Until such burden is discharged, the other party is not required to be called upon to prove his case. The court has to examine as to whether the person upon whom burden lies has been able to discharge his burden. Further, things which are admitted need not be proved. Whether the burden of proof has been discharged by a party to the lis or not would depend upon the facts and circumstances of the case. The party on whom the burden lies has to stand on his own and he cannot take advantage of the weakness or omissions of the opposite party. Thus, the burden of proving a claim or defence is on the party who asserts it.(Para 41)- Distinction between burden of proof and onus of proof- Burden of proof lies upon a person who has to prove the fact and which never shifts but onus of proof shifts. Such a shifting of onus is a continuous process in the evaluation of evidence. For instance, in a suit for possession based on the title, once the plaintiff has been able to create a high degree of probability so as to shift the onus on the defendant, it is for the defendant to discharge his onus and in the absence thereof, the burden of proof lying on the plaintiff shall be held to have been discharged so as to amount to proof of the plaintiff’s title (Para 43)-Section 106 –When any fact is especially within the knowledge of any person, the burden of proving that fact is upon him. This Section applies only to parties to the suit or proceeding. It cannot apply when the fact is such as to be capable of being known also by persons other than the parties. (Para 46)

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