Punitive Damages cannot be awarded in absence of specific prayer


A very interesting case was filed by the Complainant before the District Forum claiming refund of amount on the basis of advertisement of the car and not because of any manufacturing or other defect. The Complainant purchased a car which was advertised as SUV, however it lacked the features of SUV which came to the understanding of the Complainant after driving 14,000 kms.

The Complainant approached the District Forum for refund of the amount, cost of the Complaint, declaration and restrain with regard to unfair trade practice as well as compensation for mental pain, shock, suffering, agonies, hardships, inconveniences and expenses.

The Complaint was allowed by the District Forum and the damages as well as other costs were awarded. The State Forum in Appeal reversed the finding with regard to refund of the car amount on the ground that there was no manufacturing defect.

The case was taken to NCDRC by both the parties. The National Commission reversed the decision of State Commission and upheld the order of District Forum. While the controversy so far as this part of the order was concerned ended with the order of NCRDC. However, the controversy does not end so far as award of punitive damages were concerned. The part of order that was challenged before the Hon’ble Apex Court read as ‘The respondents are hereby called upon to deposit a sum of Rs.25 lacs (Rupess Twenty Five Lacs) as punitive damages with this Commission. Out of the said deposited amount, a sum of Rs.5 lacs (rupees five lacs) shall be paid to the petitioner-complainant and rest of the amount shall be credited to the “Consumer Welfare Fund” of the Central Government to be utilized for the benefit and protection of the interests of the consumers generally. We also award a sum of Rs.50,000/- (rupees fifty thousand) in favour of the complainant to meet his cost of litigation before the three consumer fora. The liability to pay and deposit the amounts shall be joint and several on the respondents. We grant six weeks to the respondents to comply with the directions given herein above. ”

The question that arose before the Apex Court was whether the award of punitive damages was permitted in absence of any prayer or evidence of any loss suffered. The Apex Court held that while the Consumer Court Act is a welfare legislation, the Opposite party is required to be put to notice of any claim made by the Complainant. The Apex Court allowing the Appeal on the ground that there was no prayer nor any averment to that affect held that “So far as Direction (iii) is concerned, it is to be noted that there was no prayer for any compensation. There was no allegation that the complainant had suffered any loss. Compensation can be granted only in terms of Section 14(1)(d) of the Act. Clause (d) contemplates award of compensation to the consumer for any loss or injury suffered due to negligence of the opposite party. In the present case there was no allegation or material placed on record to show negligence. Thus, mere proof of “unfair trade practice” is not enough for claim or award of relief unless causing of loss is also established which in the present case has not been established.

  1. We have already set out the relief sought in the complaint. Neither there is any averment in the complaint about the suffering of punitive damages by the other consumers nor the appellant was aware that any such claim is to be met by it. Normally, punitive damages are awarded against a conscious wrong doing unrelated to the actual loss suffered. Such a claim has to be specially pleaded. The respondent complainant was satisfied with the order of the District Forum and did not approach the State Commission. He only approached the National Commission after the State Commission set aside the relief granted by the District Forum. The National Commission in exercise of revisional jurisdiction was only concerned about the correctness or otherwise of the order of the State Commission setting aside the relief given by the District Forum and to pass such order as the State Commission ought to have passed. However, the National Commission has gone much beyond its jurisdiction in awarding the relief which was neither sought in the complaint nor before the State Commission. We are thus, of the view that to this extent the order of the National Commission cannot be sustained. We make it clear that we have not gone into the merits of the direction but the aspect that in absence of such a claim being before the National Commission and the appellant having no notice of such a claim, the said order is contrary to principles of fair procedure and natural justice. We also make it clear that this order will not stand in the way of any aggrieved party raising a claim before an appropriate forum in accordance with law.”

Full Judgement -> General Motors (India) Private Limited v. Ashok Ramniklal Tolat & Anr.


85 − = 80