Narok killer bus tests insurance compensation rules

A police officer at the scene of the Ntulele bus accident which left 30 people dead and injured 40 others last year. FILE
A police officer at the scene of the Ntulele bus accident which left 30 people dead and injured 40 others last year. FILE 

Matatu insurers have raised the threshold for accident compensation to exclude commuters who die or get injured while travelling in vehicles that are in breach of the law.

The insurers said they will no longer entertain claims from travellers who get injured or die aboard unlicensed or unroadworthy vehicles — a move that could leave thousands of commuters and accident victims’ next of kin in a quandary.

Though most insurers have in the past had to compensate all victims of accidents, including those injured in overloaded vehicles, industry players now say only those hurt in fully compliant buses will be paid.

The change of rules has been revealed in a legal battle involving victims of last year’s fatal accident at Ntulele on Mai Mahiu-Narok road in which 30 people were killed and 40 others injured.

Invesco Assurance has moved to court seeking to discharge itself from the burden of compensating victims of the accident involving a bus it had insured.

The insurance firm says in court papers that it will not compensate the victims of the accident because the operator of City to City Services Limited did not meet the set guidelines and terms of the contract.

“The plaintiff (Invesco) established that the defendant (bus owner) was in blatant breach of terms and conditions of the insurance policy,” the insurer says in documents filed in court.

The insurer maintains that the ill-fated bus was at the time of the accident being driven by an unauthorised driver and did not have a valid Transport Licensing Board (TLB) document.

City to City bus also operated on the Kisii-Migori route without the permission to do so, the insurer says. It had instead been licensed to operate on the Nairobi- Garissa route.

Invesco further argues that the fact that the director of the ill-fated bus was charged with a traffic offence for permitting an unroadworthy motor vehicle to be driven on the road contrary to section 55(1) of the Traffic Act is enough reason not to pay any claims arising from the accident.

“The plaintiff’s prayer is for a declaratory order allowing him to avoid settlement of any claims by injured persons and or fatal accident claims arising out of the accident,” the insurer says in court documents.

The insurer is seeking an order compelling the owner of the bus to settle all claims arising out of the Narok accident.

Matatu Welfare Association (MWA) chairperson Dickson Mbugua put the responsibility of ensuring that public service vehicles are fully compliant with the government.

He said it is incumbent upon the government to inform passengers that a vehicle is not compliant with the regulations so that they can avoid it.

“The State should come up with a list that clearly identifies vehicles that passengers should avoid for failure to meet the set transport standards,” Mr Mbugua said even as he accused insurers of seeking to profit from premiums without educating commuters on the circumstances under which they cannot be compensated in case of an accident.

“The insurance firms should endeavour to inform the public that boarding vehicles that do not comply with what has been stated in the insurance contracts exposes them to the danger of missing out on compensation in the event of an accident,” he said.

TLB chairman Joseph Thuo said the government was in the process of introducing operational rules that will ensure passengers board only vehicles that are in compliance with the traffic regulations to secure their right to compensation in the event of an accident.

“Plans are at an advanced stage to introduce a computer-based system that will be useful to passengers when an accident occurs,” said Mr Thuo.

The integrated transport management system is expected to generate and make available to passengers information on the roadworthiness of the vehicle they are about to board.

“The system will enable passengers to tell whether the vehicle is operating on the correct route under the TLB licence, if the driver is authorised to drive the vehicle or if it is roadworthy,” he said.

Mr Thuo reckons that all PSV operators are required to apply for a temporary permit in the event they want to operate on a route other than the one stipulated in the licence. The temporary permits cost Sh1,200.

Many PSVs, especially in towns, employ the services of unauthorised drivers who temporarily drive the vehicles and are paid for every trip made.