It is necessary for courts to take a “pragmatic view” of the rights of consumers in disputes concerning them since customers are at a disadvantage as compared to service providers, the Supreme Court has said. The court noted that Parliament had enacted the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 and provision of limitation in the Act cannot be “strictly construed to disadvantage” a consumer in a case where service provider itself was instrumental in causing a delay in settling the claim.
A bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and P C Pant observed this while dismissing an appeal filed by the National Insurance Company Ltd against the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC’s) April 2007 order awarding Rs 21.05 lakh along with interest to a firm, insured with it. “In our opinion, in a dispute concerning a consumer, it is necessary for the courts to take a pragmatic view of the rights of the consumer principally since it is the consumer who is placed at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the supplier of services or goods,” the bench said.
“It is to overcome this disadvantage that a beneficent legislation in the form of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was enacted by Parliament,” it observed. The bench noted that there was no question of requiring the insured to approach a court of law for adjudication of the claim which has already been made to the insurance firm. “This would amount to the encouraging avoidable litigation which certainly cannot be the intention of the insurance policies and is in any case not in public interest,” it said.
The apex court was told that Hindustan Safety Glass Works Ltd had taken two policies from the insurance company to cover several risks, including the building, machinery and damage or loss caused due to flood and inundation, for its factory in Kolkata. On August 6, 1992 there was incessant rain there and the firm said it suffered considerable damage of raw materials, stocks and goods after which it approached the insurance firm for claim.
The insurer had appointed a surveyor, who submitted its report in November 1993 and indicated a loss of about Rs 24 lakhs having been suffered by the insured. The insurance firm did not accept the report and appointed another surveyor who gave a report in November 1994 assessing the loss suffered by the insured at about Rs 26 lakhs. After the insured filed a compliant with the NCDRC, the insurance firm repudiated the claim in May, 2001.
The NCDRC had rejected the contentions of insurance firm and had awarded an amount of Rs 21,05,803 along with interest to the insured. The apex court also rejected a separate appeal filed by National Insurance Company Ltd against NCDRC’s order passed in connection with a case related to another private firm.