The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC), New Delhi recently rapped the United India Insurance Co. Ltd for using an ambiguous term, “owner-driver” in their policy and then refusing a woman’s claim relying on the same.
The complaint was filed by the parents of Shobhit Kumar, who had died in a road accident while driving a motorcycle insured with the petitioner insurance company. The registered owner of the vehicle was the mother of the deceased. The award of insurance amount was challenged mainly on the ground that the term “owner-driver” in the policy meant that the policy covered only the owner as the driver, and since the vehicle was not being driven by the owner at the time of the accident, the insurance amount should not have been awarded.
The NCDRC Bench comprising Dr. SM Kantikar and Mr. Dinesh Singh was hearing a revision petition filed by the insurance company, challenging the order passed by the District Forum and the State Commission, finding it guilty of deficiency in service. The NCDRC agreed with the complainants’ contention, noting that while the term owner-driver is ambiguous, to a reasonable person, it would seem to include the owner as well as the driver. The impugned orders had directed it to pay the insured amount of Rs. 1,00,000 to the complainants, with an interest at 8% per annum from the date of filing the consumer complaint till the date of actual payment.
“The term ‘owner – driver’ is in itself ambiguous and unclear. In case it was meant to construe only the owner-cum-driver herself driving, the same should have been unambiguously and clearly stated in the insurance policy. As would appear to a reasonable person, the proposition intended to be conveyed and understood was that the owner, as well as the driver, will be covered under the policy. Also, Court observed that in the case of a lady who purchased a motorcycle in a district like Mainpuri in the State of Uttar Pradesh, where the terrain is difficult, the ordinary residents / consumers of the area are simple, innocent, hard-working. A lady purchasing a motorcycle in her registered name would in all probability be purchasing it for her husband’s and / or son’s and / or brother’s etc. males’ use. Again, the lady paying an extra premium of Rs. 50/- for personal accident cover would in all probability be doing so out of concern and fear for her husband and / or son and / or brother etc. males.”
The Bench emphasized on prompt and dutiful attitude of insurance companies in disbursing the payments stating “Consumer justice in the true sense has to be met. Once the amount awarded for deficiency in service and the amount awarded in addition for unfair trade practice are adjudicated and determined, the onus is on the insurance co. to be prompt and dutiful in making the necessary payments within the stipulated time. Creating yet further harassment, uncertainty and difficulty for the ordinary simple consumer by delaying payments or making reduced payments etc. (if the adjudication is not stayed or quashed or modified by a higher authority/court) will be an unacceptable situation, to be viewed seriously – the harassment, uncertainty and difficulty of the consumer should end promptly and fully, the chapter should close.”