Case Study: Consumer can’t claim compensation if the “Necessary Parties” are not included in the Consumer Court Case

Before filing their case at the consumer court, consumers should get the facts very clear and include all necessary/proper parties in the complaint to avoid dismissal of the same. Non-inclusion of necessary/proper parties can turn out be grounds for dismissal of the complaint even if all others facts are proven. It is absolutely necessary for a complainant to implead any party that is responsible for the cause of action.

You May Be Deprived of Any Relief for Non-Inclusion of Necessary Parties

A necessary party is a person in whose absence no effective decree can be passed by the court. If a necessary party is not impleaded, the suit itself is liable to be dismissed. The National Commission in the matter of Jet Airways (India) Limited versus Ethelwad O. Mendes (First Appeal No. 432 of 2012), vide its order dated 12.02.2018, allowed the appeal against the order of the State Commission filed by the respondent/complainant at the State Commission under Complaint No. 06/2010 against the appellant/ opposite party Jet Airways (India) Limited.

Let’s retrace the case.

The respondent/complainant had purchased air tickets from an agent, M/s Trade Wings Limited, for himself and his family (four persons) to travel to Toronto, Canada, from Mumbai via London-Heathrow. The tickets were for a Jet Airways flight, having arrangements for code-sharing with Air Canada. The journeys were to be happen between 10.05.2008 and 15.06.2008. On reaching Toronto by Air Canada, the said family discovered that their baggage had not yet arrived. This caused much inconvenience and they also had to incur costs in purchasing toiletries, etc.

The airline agreed to give them a mere US$ 100 and that too would be handed over only at the address in India. The respondent/complainant alleged that during the three days it took for the baggage to be delivered to them, they were unable to go anywhere and enjoy their holidays because they did not have any change of clothes. On the return journey on 31.05.2008, as stated by the respondent/complainant, the Air Canada flight was to depart at 0800 hours from Toronto for London. They were given boarding passes without seat numbers at Toronto Airport. When they reached the embarkment gate after going through the security checks, they were told that the said flight of Air Canada was overbooked and they could not be accommodated in the same. They were made to travel by a Lufthansa flight to Heathrow, London, via Frankfurt on the next date, 01.06.2008, and that too in the evening at 18:00 hours. They were given some vouchers for refreshments, etc., but the same was found to be inadequate. As the flight was changed, they could not reach London according to schedule, disturbing the arrangements made for pick-up. They had to hire two taxis to reach Nottingham. In addition, when their flight reached Heathrow Airport at London, they found that two pieces of their luggage had not arrived. The said luggage was delivered to them at Nottingham after a delay of 36 hours, causing great harassment/inconvenience to them.

On reaching India, the respondent/complainant filed a complaint before the State Commission against Jet Airways, from whom the air ticket had been purchased. The appellant/opposite party stated that the complaint was barred by limitation under Section 24A of Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The complainant was debarred under Section 30 (1) of Chapter III, Liability of the Carrier, IInd Schedule of Carriage, by Air Act, 1972, to make any claim for damages after two years from the date of travel. The State Commission, by its order dated 14.06.2012, allowed the complaint partly. The respondent/complainant was held entitled to a sum of 635.47 Canadian dollars (to be paid in equivalent Indian rupees as on the date of payment), as well as Rs 3,000 by way of pecuniary losses and Rs 2 lakh by way of non-pecuniary losses, in terms of Section (14) (1) (d) of Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The respondent/complainant was also held entitled to a sum of Rs 5,000 by way of cost of the complaint. The State Commission further directed that the amount shall be paid to the respondent/complainant within a period of four weeks and in case it was not paid, the same shall carry interest at the rate of 7% until it was paid. Aggrieved by the order of the State Commission, Jet Airways (India) Limited filed an appeal before the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC).

The main issue to consider before the National Commission was this: whether under the code sharing arrangement Jet Airways could be held accountable for any deficiency in service on the part of the participating airlines, which in this case were Air Canada and Lufthansa. In this regard, the National Commission referred to a document titled ‘Worldwide Slot Guidelines’, 8th Edition, English Version, effective from 1 January 2017, published by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). In clause 8.14, titled ‘Shared Operations’, this is stated: ‘The operating airline is responsible for all usage and performance requirements.’ From the above provision, an impression was gathered that the operating airlines – Air Canada and Lufthansa – where the alleged deficiency in service took place were responsible for the usage and performance requirements. In any case, for taking a just decision with regard to the consumer complaint at hand, it was absolutely necessary that the versions of the operating airlines should be on record, so that a rational assessment about their deficiency in service, if any, could be made.

So it was that the National Commission held that Air Canada and Lufthansa were necessary parties in the case and it was necessary to obtain their versions before taking any decision. The consumer complaint in its present form was dismissed. At the same time, liberty was given to the respondent/complainant to file a fresh complaint, if he desired to do so, by impleading the other airlines as necessary parties. There was no order as to costs. Had the complainant known, it would have been easy for him to implead Air Canada and Lufthansa as opposite parties in the original complaint. Of course he still has the option to file a fresh case but that will take considerable time and it may turn out to be an indefinite wait for a verdict.

In its order dated 02.02.2018 (WP [0C] 12006/2015 & CM No. 31848/2015 WP [C] 12006/2015 & CM No. 31848/2015), the High Court of Delhi has confirmed that the Civil Aviation Rules provide an immediate relief as compensation to domestic passengers who are denied boarding. DGCA 2010 Rules does not put a cap on the compensation that can be demanded from the airline in cases of overbooking. A passenger has full right to approach civil and consumer courts for relief. Domestic as well as international airlines are responsible for deficiency in service and can be sued in Indian consumer courts.

Earlier, in the case of Air France versus O.P. Srivastava & Others (First Appeal No. 310 of 2008), NCDRC held that not permitting a passenger holding a confirmed ticket to board a flight amounted to deficiency in service on the part of the airline. It directed the premier French national carrier to pay a compensation of Rs 400,000 each to three officials of the Sahara Group on the grounds of causing them inconvenience and harassment by denying boarding on a Paris–Delhi flight in 2002.

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