Brief Facts of the Case-
The respondent Hindustan Safety Glass Works Ltd. had taken out two policies with the appellant National Insurance Company. On 6th August, 1992 there was heavy incessant rain in Calcutta resulting in heavy accumulation of rain water inside and around the factory/works of the respondent. According to the respondent, there was considerable damage to raw materials, stocks and goods, furniture etc. As a result of the damage suffered by the insured and in terms of the two policies taken out with National Insurance, claims were filed by the insured on 7th and 8th August, 1992 claiming a total amount of about Rs. 52 lakhs. Among the various issues alleged by National Insurance Company one main issue was that the Complaint filed before the National Commission was barred by limitation as it was filed on 13.08.1996 while the loss/damage to the respondent properties had taken place in August, 1992. The National Commission by its judgment and order held in favor of respondent. Against the said order of National Commission this appeal lies to the Supreme Court.
Legal Issue– Whether the Complaint filed by the respondent before the National Commission was barred by the provision of Sec.24A of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986?
The Supreme Court observed that on the date of the incident the respondent goods were insured. On the very next day, the respondent lodged a claim with National Insurance. In response, National Insurance first appointed a surveyor to assess the loss suffered by the respondent and a report was given by this surveyor after more than one year. Thereafter, for reasons that are not at all clear, National Insurance appointed a second surveyor which also took about one year to submit its report and eventually gave an addendum to that report thereby crossing one year in completion of its report along with the addendum. In other words, National Insurance itself took more than two years in surveying or causing a survey of the loss or damage suffered by the insured. Surely, this entire delay is attributable to National Insurance and cannot prejudice the claim of the respondent, more particularly when the respondent had lodged a claim well within time.
The Supreme Court while resolving the issue raised before it held that 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-à-vis the supplier of services or goods. It is to overcome this disadvantage that a beneficent legislation in the form of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was enacted by Parliament. The provision of limitation in the Act cannot be strictly construed to disadvantage a consumer in a case where a supplier of goods or services itself is instrumental in causing a delay in the settlement of the consumer’s claim.
The Supreme Court held that the National Commission was quite right in rejecting the contention of National Insurance in this regard.