Public Liability Insurance a Very Good Suggestion for Victims of Untoward Incidents: Bombay HC
Moneylife Digital Team 10 March 2023
Advocate Dipesh Siroya and Advocate Jamshed Mistry, amicus curiae in a case of non-repair and non-filling of potholes on roads, submitted before the Bombay High Court (HC) the 'Report on Public Liability Insurance in India' prepared by Moneylife Foundation. The bench of acting chief justice SV Gangarpurwala and justice Sandeep V Marne remarked that public liability insurance was a very good suggestion, especially for the victims of such incidents.  
 
Advocate Mistry shared action taken points from the report before the bench. Advocate Mistry submitted that in the case of liability insurance, the victims could be immediately provided with some relief without needing to go through a rigorous process. 
 
The bench observed the suggestion made by Advocate Mistry, based on the Moneylife Foundation report, is 'very good'.
    
Earlier this week, Devesh Srivastava, chairman of General Insurance Corporation of India (GIC) released Moneylife Foundation's 'Report on Public Liability Insurance in India'. "In the US, nearly 40%-45% of insurance products are liability insurance compared with just 1%-1.5% in India. We need to change this and take public liability insurance products to mass market. It will bring required change in the mindset of businesses as well as common public," he says.
 
In most developed countries, if you are injured in a public space such as a bank, cinema, mall or restaurant, the owner of the establishment has an insurance policy that covers it. In India, we are on our own—if you have a good enough personal accident policy and health policy, you may be covered. The public establishment has no responsibility even to call an ambulance to get you to a hospital. 
 
The report has also made some key recommendations to ensure that the efficacy of liability insurance is improved and rules and regulations are implemented to protect victims' rights, such as improving upon the draft amendment of the Public Liability Insurance Act to ensure training of district collectors concerning the relevant provisions of the Act, and adding accountability and self-reporting from district collectors. 
 
The 'Report on Public Liability Insurance in India' is a 360-degree perspective on the rules and regulations governing liability insurance, its functioning and operability – both for massive public tragedies like Bhopal Gas (which led to the enactment of the Public Liability Insurance Act) and the subsequent evolution of commercial liability products in line with contractual mandates of global commercial organisations. (Read: Moneylife Foundation's Report Seeks Mandatory Public Liability Insurance in India for All Public Spaces)
 
About the Report 
 
India is hampered by the fact that the Law of Torts has not been codified, unlike other countries. Further, judgements which define judicial thinking in this area have thus far been concentrated only on industrial accidents. So, victims of non-industrial accidents such as the Morbi bridge collapse or the Uphaar Cinema tragedy still have nowhere to go for relief. 
 
While many measures to address this have been suggested in the report, the overwhelming view that resonated with the experts consulted was in favour of the following essential initiatives:
 
• Mandating public liability insurance by expanding the purview of the Act to encompass all business owners; 
 
• Setting up a separate judicial forum for victims of non-industrial casualties so that their plea for justice and compensation can be fast-tracked. This ought to be on the lines of the motor vehicle accident tribunals which are considered highly effective by all stakeholders. 
 
• Pave the way for a plaintiff's bar or introduce the contingency fee system for lawyers so that there is some incentive at the legal professional's end to facilitate the deliverance of justice. 
 
From an insurance perspective, the report has suggested that non-life insurers concentrate on improving their product coverage and also on improving the claims conditions so that no hapless insured will ever be forced to withdraw his claim, because the policy would not pay or the claims conditions are too onerous to comply with. 
 
As for the claims handling issues, the report makes an important suggestion of making the entire claims process owner independent. In fact, a suggestion has been made to replicate the motor accident claims to handle the process suitably for public liability claims.
 
A copy of the report has been made available on Moneylife Foundation's website here: https://www.mlfoundation.in/memorandum/public-liability-insurance-in-india/182.html
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