Consumer As Asking – Insurance company liable to pay punitive damages for pursuing meritless litigation

Officials of public sector undertak ings often harass citizens and handle litigation frivolously , considering themselves immune and unaccountable for their highhanded actions.

Case Study: The Haryana government had floated a scheme named `Ch. Devi Lal Jan Suraksha Bima Yojna’, popularly referred to as `Devi Rakshak’. Under this scheme, one bread earner per family would be covered for an accident resulting in death or permanent disability . The bread earner, in the age group of 18 to 80 years, would have to be a permanent resident of the state, with his name on the voter’s list or holding a ration card. According to the memorandum of understanding between the government of Haryana and New India Assurance on October 25, 2004, a yearly premium of Rs 6 crore was paid for cover age of Rs 1 lakh for one bread earner per family .

Charanjit Kaur’s husband was the sole bread earner of their family . He died an unnatural death due to an accident. His widow applied for compensation after a year. New India Assurance repudiated the claim as it had not been lodged within ayear of the accident. Kaur had a legal notice issued to the insurance company , but the claim was not settled.She then filed a consumer complaint. The Panchkula District Forum directed the company to pay the claim of Rs 1 lakh as per the coverage limit along with interest at 6% per annum from the date of rejection of the claim, and Rs 2,000 for costs.

The insurance company appealed to the Haryana State Commission, which set aside the forum’s order and dismis sed the complaint. Charanjit Kaur then filed a revision before the National Commission.

The insurance company argued that the complaint was not maintainable as the MOU was between the government and the insurance company , and there was no privity of contract with the claimants. Also, the claim was not payable since it had not been submitted within 12 calendar months of occurrence of the mishap.

In its judgment on May 7, 2015 delivered by Justice VB Gupta for the Bench along with Dr BC Gupta, the National Commission observed that the JantaGramin Personal Accident Insurance Policy was a totally different policy for individuals in the age group of 10 to 70 years. The MOU did not contain a stipulation that the claim had to be reported within a period of one year from the date of accident. The order the District Forum was restored.

The National Commission also held New India guilty of trying to mislead the consumer fora at all levels. The commission expressed deep anguish at the way in which a public sector undertaking was conducting a litigation, and raising frivolous objections in an attempt to defeat the genuine claims of those insured. For this conduct, the forum directed New India to pay punitive damages of Rs 10 lakh to the consumer aid account, and recover this entire amount from the salaries of the delinquent officials responsible for pursuing a meritless and frivolous litigation.These punitive damages would have to be paid along with 9% interest in delayed beyond the stipulated period of six weeks.

Impact: The attitude of arrogant officials will change only when it pinches their pocket.The judgment will force such officials to think twice before harassing consumers.

Source : The Times of India

Date : 11-05-2015

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