Case Study: Mackinnon Mackenzie & co. pvt. ltd. v. Ibrahim Mahommed Issak

By Nishant Singh Rawat 10 Minutes Read

There must be a causal relationship between the accident and the employment to claim compensations under the Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923 .

Citation: 1970 AIR 1906; 1970 SCR (1) 869

Date of Judgement: 14th August, 1969

Bench: V. Ramaswami (J), J. C. Shah (CJ), A. N. Grover (J)


  • Shaikh Hassan Ibrahim was employed as a deck-hand, a seaman of category II on the ship ss. “Dwarka” which is owned by the British India Steam Navigation Company Limited of which the appellant is the Agent.
  • On 15th Dec, 1961, he complained of chest pain and insomnia but on examination nothing abnormal was found, so he was given sedatives.
  • He was last seen on 16th Dec, 1961 around 3:00 AM on the deck. At 6:25 AM he was found missing and search was undertaken but he was nowhere to be found.
  • On 20th Feb, 1962 the respondent filed an application under section 3 of the Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923 claiming compensation of Rs. 4,810/- for the death of his son, the missing seaman, based on a personal injury caused by an accident arising out of and in the course of his employment.

Decision of Additional Commissioner:

Additional Commissioner inspected the ship on 23rd Jan, 1963 and held on 6th Feb, 1963 that no evidence was found which shows seaman is dead or that his death was due to any accident arising out of his employment.

Decision of Bombay High Court:

High Court reversed the decision of Additional Commissioner through judgement dated 5th March, 1965 and held that the death of the seaman must have occurred on account of an accident which arose out of his employment.

Decision of Supreme Court:

Supreme Court allowed the appeal while setting aside the decision of High Court as there was no evidence of stormy night and nobody saw the seaman at “so called place of accident.”

Key law points discussed in the case

Whether the accident arose out of or in the course of employment within the meaning of section 3 of Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923?


Court observed that to come within the Act the injury by accident must arise both out of and in the course. of employment. The words “in the course of the employment” mean “in the course of the work which the workman is employed to do and which is incidental to it.” The words “arising out of employment” are understood to mean that “during the course of the employment, injury has resulted from some risk incidental to the duties of the service, which unless engaged in the duty owing to the master, it is reasonable to believe the workman would not otherwise have suffered.”

In other words, there must be a causal relationship between the accident and the employment. The expression “arising out of employment” is again not confined to the mere nature of the employment. The expression applies to employment as such to its nature, its conditions, its obligations, and its incidents. If by reason of any of these factors the workman is brought within the scene of special danger the injury would be one which arises ‘out of employment.’

Court referred to a test given by Lord Sumner in Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Co. v. Highley[1] which provides that whether it was part of the injured person’s employment to hazard, to suffer, or to do that which caused his injury? If yes, the accident arose out of his employment. If nay, it did not, because, what it was not part of the employment to hazard, to suffer, or to do, cannot well be the cause of an accident arising out of the employment.

Court took the reference of different English Court of Appeal cases regarding drowning of seaman. In Bender v. Owners of S.S. “Zent”[2], the chief cook on board a steamship fell overboard and was drowned while the ship was on the high seas. There was no suggestion that the duties of the deceased would lead him into any danger. The Court of Appeal held that there was no evidence to for the inference that death was caused by an accident arising out of and in the course of his employment. In Marshall v. Owners of S.S. “Wild Rose”[3] court differentiated between the duties of a sailor and held that,

“If an ordinary sailor is a member of the watch and is on duty during the night and disappears, the inference might fairly be drawn that he died from an accident arising out of his employment. But if, on the other hand, he was not a member of the watch, and was down below and came up on deck when he was not required for the purpose of any duty to be performed on deck, and disappeared without our knowing anything else, it seems that there is absolutely nothing from which any Court could draw the inference that he died from an accident arising out of his employment.

Same principle was followed in Rice v. Owner of Ship “Swansea Vale“[4], where the deceased was a “seaman” in the strict sense of the term, one whose duty was to work on deck and not a cook, ’as in Bender’s case, nor an engineer as in Marshall’s case.

So, the established principle is where the evidence shows that in the course of his employment the workman is working in a place to which some risk attaches and an accident occurs solely by reference to that risk, it is legitimate to attribute the accident to that risk, and to hold that the accident arose out of the employment. But the inference as to the origin of the accident may be displaced by evidence showing that the accident was due to some action of the workman outside the scope of the employment.[5]

The accident arose out of the employment could be inferred, if following conditions are fulfilled:

  • Accident is shown to have happened while the deceased was in the course of his employment
  • At a place where he was discharging the duties of his employment
  • The accident is capable of being attributed to a risk which is ordinarily inherent in the discharge of such duties

The same principle applies in Indian law as the language of Section 3 of the Indian Act is identical to Section 1 of the English Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1925.

[1] [1917] A.C. 352.

[2] [1909] 2 K.B. 41.

[3] [1909] 2 K.B. 46.

[4] [1912] A.C. 238.

[5] Doctrine of Added Peril.

Nishant Singh Rawat

Contributing Editor @LegalWires A Research Scholar at the University of Delhi also graduated from the University of Delhi and Himachal Pradesh National Law University with specialization in criminal law. He is an egalitarian and strong supporter of human rights. He is a keen traveller and mountaineer. Whatever challenges the societal structure and norms, attracts his attention.

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