A case of ‘negligence’ and ‘deficiency in services’
Search on the Internet for lift (‘elevator’ in American usage) and escalator accidents, and you will find hundreds of freaky stories that will make you think twice before entering into an elevator. Around the world, the most common cause of the majority of elevator mishaps, especially the ones that have caused deaths, is ‘negligence’ – either in maintaining and upkeep or while rescuing the stuck individuals in case of power failure. Who is held ‘responsible’ in these freak cases – in some cases, they are hardly a freak event, though, since a prior oversight has happened. Dr Prem Lata, Consumer Awakening Former Member, CDRF-Delhi
In various legal verdicts in India as well as in many other countries, it has been established that the responsibility for a lift mishap lies with the person/entity who has been paid to maintain the same. At times, the fault may also be considered to lie with the person who does not get the maintenance done on time (for whatever reasons, including not paying for the same) and thereby puts the lives of users at risk by not informing them about the unkempt lift.
Do All Lift Users Qualify to Be Consumers?
All users of lifts, whether or not they pay for using or maintaining it, are considered to be consumers of the same. It is because someone – the building owner, the tenant, or the entity responsible for the upkeep of the lift – is paying for the service that you use. For example, if you visit a friend’s home or a mall or an office, you do not necessarily pay for using the lift at those places, but somebody else on your or the visitor’s behalf is paying someone for the lift’s upkeep. Hence, the service of the lift is being extended to you by someone and you therefore become a consumer.
Notable Case 1
In January 2014, after a decade of deliberations, the National Commission awarded a whopping compensation of Rs 5.90 crore to the family of
Vipin Handa, who had died in a tragic lift accident. In March 2003, Handa had come out of the RAW headquarters on the 11th floor of the CGO complex in South Delhi along with 12 other officers and got into the lift that stalled midway. The staff outside decided to rescue the officers after opening the doors and switching off the power supply. However, when Handa was stepping out, the lift started moving downwards and crushed his neck between the lift’s roof and the building’s floor, killing him on the spot.
The National Commission’s order exposed the callous attitude to safety exhibited by all those responsible for the upkeep of the lift. The lift manufacturer Otis, the Commission said, was guilty of sheer negligence and lack of professionalism – for installing the lift without a voltage stabiliser (as a result of which the lift was stalling constantly), for failing to advise the administration about the need for a stabiliser well in time, and for failing to service the lift despite complaints.
The commission also held Military Engineering Services (MES) and Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) jointly liable for failing to enforce the maintenance and repair contract with Otis, and for not ensuring the installation of a voltage stabiliser to ensure the smooth running of the lift. Saying that this exposed the sloth and callousness of the administration, the Commission asked Otis to pay 70 per cent of the compensation amount, while MES and RAW would pay 25 per cent and 5 per cent, respectively.
Notable Case 2
In the case of PG Pai versus Care Elevators and others, the National Commission went into the details of each party’s role and responsibility towards the public at large.
Kingfisher Airlines had leased an office in Mumbai and the building was being managed by Bhagwati House. The lifts in the building were installed by Otis and maintenance of the same was assigned to Care Elevators and Engineering Company.
The lift in question went out of order in May 2005 and a report in this regard was lodged with Care Elevators. Meanwhile, Roshan Pai entered the lift without knowing about the fault – there was no warning at the lift entrance. (Trig Security was responsible for putting up all notices of warning.) The lift moved abruptly, without closing the doors, and crushed and killed Pai with his neck and head stuck inside and the rest of the body outside.
It was later established that the mechanics of the security agency had disabled the inbuilt locking system of the lift – the malfunctioning of which had caused the accident – which was properly installed by Otis. As per the provisions of Clause 18 of Indian Standards of Electric Traction Lifts, every lift should be equipped with an electro-mechanic lock that will prevent the lift from moving when its door, shutter or gate is open.
Roshan Pai’s father filed a case against all the four
respondents and claimed compensation for the mental agony he had undergone due to the death of his young son. He alleged that Kingfisher Airlines, the owner of Bhagwati House, Otis Elevator Company (who installed the lift), and Care Elevators (responsible for upkeep of the lift) were liable to compensate him.
In this context, the Commission established that like Otis, which had complied with the rules, Kingfisher too had no role as it only had to pay for upkeep of the lift—like all other occupants of the building—and it was doing the same.
On the other hand, the operating agency and the security agency were found to be at fault and liable to face action for deficiency in services. The security agency was found guilty on two counts. Firstly, their security person had disabled the electro-mechanic system leading to the accident, and secondly, it was their duty to either put up a warning outside the lift or deploy a guard to stop people from using the lift.
Although it was established that the complainant, the father of deceased Rohan Pai, had not paid for the services of maintenance of the lift, he was still eligible for compensation as someone was paying for the services that his son was availing of. Providing lift in a multi-storeyed building amounts to providing services to visitors and employees in the building. In this particular case, the deceased was visiting Kingfisher’s office in the building, establishing that he had permission from a person who paid for the services.