NATIONAL CONSUMER DISPUTES REDRESSAL COMMISSION
Decided on December 18,1992
INDIAN OIL CORPORATION LTD. …Appellant
V. VENKATARAMAN …Respondents
Mr. Justice V. Balakrishna Eradi, President?
These two connected appeals have been filed by Opposite Party Nos. 1 and 2 respectively in Original Petition No. 112 of 1991 on the file of the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, Madras. The appellant in Appeal No. 82 of 1992 is the Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. (Opposite Party No. 1) and the connected appeal (Appeal No. 85 of 1992) has been filed by M/s. Vijaya Kanna Agencies who are the Indane Gas Distributors of the Indian Oil Corporation at Palani.
2. The first respondent herein (the first complainant before the State Commission) had subscribed for two L.P.G. cooking gas cylinders and was a customer registered with the second opposite party, the distributor. On April 23,1991 the second opposite party through one of its delivery boys, delivered one gas cylinder at the residence of the first complainant and it was being kept there as a spare second cylinder. On May 16,1991 at about 11 a.m. when Complainant No. 1 and his wife and minor grandson who are complainant Nos. 2 and 4 respectively were inside the kitchen at their residence, Shanthi the deceased daughter of complainant Nos. 1 and 2 who was boiling some water on the gas stove found that the gas in the cylinder which was till then in use was exhausted. Thereupon she put out the stove, removed that cylinder and attempted to connect the spare cylinder supplied by the Opposite Party No. 2 when there was a burst resulting in the gas escaping and catching fire. The deceased Shanthi was caught in the fire and her clothes were enveloped in flames with the result that she suffered extensive burns. She was immediately admitted in the Government Hospital, Palani but she succumbed to the burn injuries on May 19, 1991. According to the complainants the accident was caused due to the defective nature of the cylinder supplied to the first complainant on April 23, 1991 and hence Opposite Party Nos. 1 and 2 are liable to compensate the complainants for the grave loss suffered by them by reason of the death of deceased Shanthi. Opposite Party No. 3 in the complaint petition is the United India Assurance Company with whom a policy of insurance had been taken by the second opposite party for the benefit of itself and the first opposite party covering against the risk of all liabilities to customers which may arise on account of accidents.
3. The defence put forward by the first opposite party in the counter statement filed on its file before the State Commission was that the LPG cooking gas cylinders supplied by it to the distributor are thoroughly checked and great care is taken to ensure that they are free from any defect. The counter statement proceeded to state that the delivery boys had clear instructions to test the cylinders for any possible defects in the presence of the customers concerned. But in the instant case at the specific request of the complainant the delivery boy delivered the cylinder without the necessary check at the customer’s premises. In other words, the case put forward by Opposite Party No. 1 was that the complainants had prevailed upon the delivery boy not to remove the seal of the cylinder and thereby prevented him from conducting the checks at the customer premises. The first respondent denied that the cylinder or any of the related equipments was defective or there was any negligence or deficiency on the part of the Indian Oil Corporation. On this basis the first respondent denied any liability for payment of any compensation to the complainants.
4. The contention put forward by the second opposite party was that before delivering the gas cylinder to the complainant on April 23, 1991 the best possible re-check of the gas cylinder had been done by its technically qualified delivery boy and hence there was no deficiency in service nor any negligence on its part. The sole plea raised by the third opposite party namely, the United India Assurance Company was that its liability was only to indemnify the first and second opposite parties in respect of all sums which the insured may be found to be legally liable to pay as compensation in respect of any accident besides litigation expenses incurred in the said connection and there was no liability on the part of the Assurance Company to pay any compensation directly to the complainants.
5. Before the State Commission the first complainant examined himself as P.W. 1 and on the side of the opposite parties, one P. Murugantham was examined as R.W. 1 claiming that he was the delivery boy who delivered the ill fated cylinder. One M. Silvraj Assistant Manager, Indian Oil Corporation was also examined as R.W. 2.
6. The State Commission has carefully analysed the oral and documentary evidence in the case. It has given sound and convincing reasons for coming to the conclusion that the version put forward by R.W. 1 that, it was he who delivered the gas cylinder, could not be believed as true. It is rightly pointed out that there was a direct contradiction between the case put forward by the first respondent and the plea taken by the second respondent on the question whether a re-check of the gas cylinder had been conducted by the delivery boy at the time of delivery at the residence of P.W. 1 the State Commission held that on the evidence it was clear that no re-checking of the gas cylinder had, in fact, been done by the delivery boy at the time when the cylinder was delivered and that this amounted to a clear deficiency inasmuch such are-checking of the cylinder was mandatory under the procedure laid down for supply of cooking gas cylinders. We find no reason whatever to differ from the said conclusion recorded by the State Commission.
If only a proper re-checking of the gas cylinder had been conducted at the time of its delivery to the customer the defect in the value would have been then discovered and the unfortunate accident would not have happened. It has clearly come out in evidence that when, on May 16,1991, the deceased Shanthi attempted to connect the spare cylinder to the stove there was a bursting out of gas which on coming into contact with the hot surface of the extinguished stove got ignited and the fire spread to the clothes worn by deceased Shanthi, engulfing her in flames. P.W. 1 was an eye witness to the whole incident. Accepting his testimony, the State Commission found that what actually took place was that when the deceased Shanthi tried to fix the regulator, due to the defective nature of the valve, the pin in the valve pierced deep leading to the bursting forth of the gas from the cylinder. In the opinion of the State Commission it had been clearly established that the accident was caused due to the defective nature of the valve in the gas cylinder. Though a plea had been advanced by the Opposite Parties that chemically gas cannot get ignited by coming in contact with any hot thing unless there is a naked flame and that there was a naked flame in a lamp kept in the almirah in the kitchen for performing of pooja it was rightly rejected by the State Commission accepting the evidence of P.W. 1 that the pooja was over in the early morning itself and there was no naked flame in the lamp at the time of the occurrence of the accident. After having ourselves independently considered the entire evidence we are in complete agreement with the aforesaid findings of the State Commission and have no hesitation to affirm the conclusion recorded by it that the accident in question had been caused only because of the defective nature of the valve in the gas cylinder.
7. The question of quantification of damages has been carefully discussed by the State Commission from the correct legal perspectives and we find no justification whatever for any interference with the directions issued by it that Opposite Party Nos. 4 and 2 should pay the Complainant Nos. 3 and 4 (husband and minor son of deceased Shanthi), Rs. 1 lakh as damages on the ground of loss of expectation of her life and the pain and suffering undergone by the deceased and that they should also jointly and severally pay to the Complainant No. 3 (husband of the deceased Shanthi) a sum of Rs. 50,000/- for loss of consortium. We also confirm the further direction issued by the State Commission that the Opposite Party Nos. 1 and 2 should pay to the Complainant Nos. 1,2 and 4 Rs. 1,000/- each for the injuries sustained by them. Thus the award of compensation made as above by the State Commission is hereby upheld.
8. The State Commission is right in holding that the liability of the Assurance Company is only to indemnify Opposite Parties Nos. 1 and 2 against their liabilities in respect of the claim made against them by the customer.
9. We accordingly confirm the order passed by the State Commission and dismiss both these appeals with costs, which we fix at Rs. 3,000/- in each appeal payable to the respondents by the concerned appellant in the respective appeal.
10. Pursuant to the interim order dated March 25, 1992, passed by this Commission granting a conditional stay to the appellant in First Appeal No. 82 of 1992, a demand draft for Rs. 40,000/- drawn in favour of the first respondent has been deposited by the said appellant in the Registry of this Commission. The said demand draft forthwith will be made over or despatched by the Registry to the first respondent. The balance amount due by the appellants to the respondents under the State Commission’s Order as also the costs payable to them under this Order shall be paid to the concerned respondents by the appellants within a period not exceeding six weeks from today.