Both ministries appealed after the lower court asked them to compensate Nu 10.565M each to a de-suup

Rinzin Wangchuk 

The ministry of information and communications (MoIC) and economic affairs (MoEA), in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, appealed to the High Court on August 24 after the lower court asked them to compensate heavily in a civil liability case involving two de-suups.

Two other private individuals who were parties to the case also appealed.

On August 11, the Thimphu dzongkhag court ordered the two ministries to compensate de-suup Phub Gyem with more than Nu 9.456 million (M) each after a freak accident in 2020 left her disabled for life. The ministries were also asked to restitute Nu 1.108M each to the state for the medical expenditure incurred in treating her.

De-suup Phub Gyem and a nyamro were hit by a TATA pickup truck while in the line of duty on September 15, 2020. The accident left Phub Gyem permanently disabled. Her lawyer claimed compensation of Nu 23.982M from MoIC, MoEA, the owner of the Gaki automobiles at Olakha and the owner of the truck.

The court penalised both ministries for failing in their duties.

The owner of Gaki automobiles, Kuenzang Wangchuk, and the owner of the truck, Nima, were asked to pay Nu 3.152M each to Phub Gyem as compensation and refund Nu 369,616 each to the state.

Although the petitioner claimed a total compensation of Nu 23.982M from four defendants, the compensation amount to Phub Gyem was increased to Nu 25.217M. The four defendants were also asked to refund Nu 2.956M to the state although the petitioner had claimed Nu 7.392M as a medical expenditure.  The total liability the court imposed on the four defendants comes to about Nu 28.174M.

The judgment stated that both MoIC and MoEA were liable to pay 15 percent each and two private individuals, five percent each, of the total compensation. It also stated that all four defendants have to compensate the victim and restitute the specified amount to the state within three months.

The compensation was calculated taking into account the salary of Nu 13,475 per month for 45 years as the victim was 25 years at the time of the accident.  Bhutan’s life expectancy of 70 years was also considered in calculating the amount.

The monthly compensation amount comes to Nu 30,075, which includes salary, medical expenses for her treatment, the cost of diapers Nu 3,500, monthly house rent of Nu 12,500 and utility bill of Nu 500.


Grounds of appeal

Why the ministries appealed is not unknown. However, legal officers of MoIC and MoEA have been consistently challenging the lower court that the case should be dismissed, as there was no locus standi to file a civil suit. “There was no relation between the defendants and petitioner,” stated a submission to the lower court. “The fact and law cannot be based on assumption. There should be a correlation and clear violation of duties between the parties.”

Both legal officers also submitted before the lower court that the case was already adjudicated in 2021 where the driver who was responsible for the accident was convicted. He was found guilty of driving under influence of alcohol and was fined Nu 4,250. The driver was ordered to compensate Nu 360,000 to the petitioner and Nu 15,000 to other injured de-suup.  “Therefore, the petitioner is not entitled to file a new case as per section 115, Res-judicata of Civil and Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Code (CCPC) of Bhutan 2011,” in their petition to the lower court stated.

Res-judicata means that a person shall not be entitled to file a subsequent suit if the cause of action or claims involved in it are the same as a prior suit on which there was a valid and final judgment on that cause of action based on the merits.

“The ministry is worried because the admission of cases alone will set a bad precedent and that the admission of a case was against the principle of law,” the MoIC’s lawyer stated.

The case filed by the petitioner against the ministry, according to a lawyer, is far-fetched, neither related nor associated with the crime committed by the main defendant. “Thus, fixing accountability on state institution in devoid of the legal principle will definitely set the wrong precedent.”