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Lost in the post
Rosy Kumar |
May 22, 2004
It's a contentious issue that has been the subject of many judicial rulings. Can courier companies hide behind the fine print on their consignment receipts?
If that's the case their liability for lost articles is only Rs 100 in the case of domestic consignments and $100 for articles sent abroad.
The law has once again been flipped on its head in Desk to Desk courier and Cargo vs Kerala State Electronics Development Corporation.
In this judgement delivered on February 17, 2004 the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission held that compensation for a lost consignment should be limited to Rs 100.
In so holding, the Commission observed that "a person who signs a document containing contractual terms is normally bound by them even though he had not read them or was ignorant of their precise legal effect."
This is a judicial turnaround. In December 2001, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission delivered a landmark judgement in Tata Chemicals Ltd vs Skypak Courier Ltd.
In that case, Tata Chemicals had handed over a consignment of computer hardware valued at Rs 36 lakh (Rs 3.6 million) to Skypak Couriers for transportation from Mithapur in Gujarat to Mumbai.
The consignment was not delivered and the courier company pointed out that its liability was limited to Rs 100 as per the agreement and refused to pay more.
Tata Chemicals filed a complaint before the National Commission, which turned down the courier company's contention and awarded Rs 34.20 lakh (Rs 3.42 million) to the complainant with 18 per cent interest per annum. Tata Chemicals also received Rs 50,000 as the cost of litigation.
When ruling on the Tata Chemicals case, the National Commission also talked about another case, Bharthi Knitting Company vs DHL Worldwide Express Couriers in which the Supreme Court had held that having agreed to the terms and conditions printed in the consignment note the consignors could not claim more than what was printed in the said terms and conditions.
In the Tata Chemicals case, the National Commission observed that the Supreme Court was not concerned in the above matter "with the question of small and fine print" used in the consignment notes and the consignor had never been explained nor made aware of the clause of limited liability.
Now, however, the position has changed once again. In Desk to Desk courier and Cargo vs Kerala State Electronics Development Corporation the complainant had booked a parcel with the courier company to be delivered in Trivandrum. The couriers charged Rs 180 as courier charges.
When the courier company did not deliver the parcel to its destination, the complainant filed a complaint before the Delhi State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission claiming compensation of Rs 230,057 with interest.
The courier company contended before the state commission that the description and the value of the parcel was not disclosed by the complainant and it had not been aware of this fact.
In response to this the Kerala State Electronics Development Corporation said that along with the parcel the invoice was also handed over to the courier company, which indicated the value of the consigned computer card as approximately Rs 230,000. The Delhi State Commission by its order directed the couriers to pay the aforementioned amount with interest to the complainant.
The courier company then filed an appeal before the National Commission, which reversed the Delhi State Commission's verdict and held that the complainant was entitled to compensation of Rs 100.It is the established proposition of law that the court's latest verdict holds the fort till it is overruled. The National Commission's latest judgment is that complainants will be entitled to receive from the couriers only a sum of Rs 100 for the loss of the packets entrusted to them for delivery at the destination.