The Supreme Court has confirmed compensation of Rs 88 lakh awarded to a now 29-year-old woman, who was rendered bedridden after she fell ill during a school trip in December 2006, when she was 14.
In an order issued on 14 July, a bench comprising Justice Navin Sinha and Justice R. Subhash Reddy set aside a September 2016 order passed by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) that had reduced the compensation amount to Rs 50 lakh.
In March 2016, the Karnataka State Commission, concluding that there was “gross negligence” by teachers, had directed the school to pay a total sum of Rs 88,73,798 to the girl, along with 9 per cent interest per annum from the date the complaint was filed. The NCDRC also agreed there was negligence but reduced the amount of compensation in its September 2016 order.
The Supreme Court has now set aside the NCDRC order.
Akshatha, the complainant, was a student of BNM Primary and High School, Bangalore, when she went on an educational school tour to several places including Delhi in December 2006. She was 14 years old at the time, studying in Class 9.
According to the NCDRC order, she fell ill during the trip and her father alleged that she was not given any immediate medical aid, which resulted in deterioration of her health. When she was finally taken to a hospital, she was diagnosed with a viral fever called ‘acute meningoencephalitis’. The doctors had then opined that Akshatha could have been cured easily if she had been given timely medical aid and attention.
She spent 53 days in a hospital in Delhi, with her parents having to stay in the capital city for her treatment. She had to be finally airlifted to Bangalore. Despite extensive treatment, judicial orders noted that Akshatha became bedridden, with the illness having affected her memory and speech. The NCDRC was told that her mental condition and IQ was said to be comparable to a 21 months old child.
According to the NCDRC order, an affidavit filed by a neurologist in the commission, had claimed that “the delay in treatment was the sole cause of her present condition”.
The NCDRC had therefore opined that the teachers were in fact negligent in taking care of Akshatha, observing, “…it can be safely said that the teachers accompanying the complainant and the other children, were negligent in performance of their duty and the appellants, they being the employers of those teachers, are vicariously liable for the loss, resulting from the said negligence and therefore, are liable to compensate the complainant.”
The commission had further observed that “considering the extent of her disablement…there is no joy and purpose left in her life”, but reduced the compensation amount to Rs 50 lakh as an all-inclusive one-time compensation, along with interest of 8 per cent per annum from the date of filing of the complaint.
The Supreme Court, however, now felt that there was neither any discussion by the NCDRC nor did it give any reasons for reducing the compensation.
“The National Commission did not opine that the compensation awarded under any particular head was excessive, yet it simply opined to reduce the compensation. In absence of any such material, discussion or reasoning, the reduction of the compensation patently becomes arbitrary and therefore, unsustainable,” it observed.