Consumer Must Agree to Liability Clauses: Ernakulam District Commission Finds DTDC Responsible for Service Deficiency and Unfair Trade Practices

The Ernakulam District Commission, chaired by Shri. D.B. Binu, Shri. V. Ramachandran, and Smt. Sreevidhia T.N., found DTDC liable for service deficiency and unfair trade practices. This decision stemmed from DTDC’s erroneous delivery of a consignment to an incorrect address and subsequent refusal to provide redress, citing a liability clause.

Case Background: The complainant dispatched a courier containing eight certificates valued at Rs. 11,900 each via DTDC courier services. However, the consignment was mistakenly delivered to an incorrect destination. DTDC declined to rectify the error, citing logistical challenges in delivering it to MBITS. Despite the complainant’s efforts to resolve the issue with the DTDC branch manager in Aluva, who confirmed the delivery by their franchise, no satisfactory resolution was provided. The complainant further alleged that the branch manager refused to disclose the contact information of higher authorities. Consequently, the complainant filed a complaint before the District Commission, seeking compensation totaling Rs. 50,000 for the cost of re-issuing the certificates and the inconvenience caused.

Arguments from the Opposing Party

DTDC argued that the complainant’s use of their services for commercial purposes excluded them from being classified as a ‘consumer’ under the Consumer Protection Act. They contended that the complaint was untimely and barred by contractual terms. Additionally, DTDC maintained that the consignment had been delivered to the correct consignee address and received by their authorized representative, in accordance with standard delivery practices for MBITS. They contested the allegations of consignment loss and asserted that their liability was restricted to Rs. 100 unless a higher declared value and surcharge had been paid. DTDC denied any service deficiency, negligence, or basis for legal action, and requested the dismissal of the complaint.

Findings of the District Commission

The District Commission observed that under Section 2(1)(d) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, the definition of a consumer encompasses individuals who utilize services for personal or educational purposes, rather than exclusively for commercial gain. Citing legal precedents such as Shriram Properties (India) Pvt. Ltd. v. Raghachand Associates (2024 LiveLaw (SC) 368), the Commission underscored that unless proven otherwise, services used by individuals for non-commercial purposes qualify them as consumers under the Act.

Regarding the issues of service deficiency and negligence, the Commission noted discrepancies in DTDC’s handling of the consignment. Despite the consignment being properly addressed, it was erroneously delivered to another location, indicating a failure to adhere to standard delivery protocols. The Commission dismissed DTDC’s argument that the complainant had used the service for commercial purposes, asserting that the consignment’s intended use did not imply commercial activity.

Furthermore, the Commission ruled that DTDC’s limited liability clause lacked validity because it was not agreed upon by the complainant. Citing Sudhir Deshpande vs. Elbee Services Ltd., the Commission emphasized that such clauses must be explicitly negotiated and consented to by the consumer. The Commission also criticized DTDC for using fine print to obscure important terms, labeling it an unfair trade practice, and ordered DTDC to ensure clarity and transparency in all consumer transactions.

Based on these findings, the Commission concluded that the complainant had endured significant inconvenience, distress, and financial losses due to DTDC’s negligence and unfair practices.

As a result, the District Commission ordered DTDC to compensate Rs. 25,000 for service deficiency, unfair trade practices, and mental distress, in addition to Rs. 10,000 to cover the costs of the proceedings.

Case Title: Anilkumar TS Menon vs. Managing Director, DTDC Corporate Office

Case Number: C.C. No. 114/2018

Posted and reproduced in Public Interest by

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