Lunch hour dispute: insurance firm to pay jeweller Rs.10 lakh

Rejecting the argument that business hours at a jewellery showroom do not include lunch break, the apex consumer court has ordered an insurance company to shell out over Rs.10 lakh as claim to a jeweller whose valuables were stolen during lunch hour.

The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission in a recent ruling pulled up the New India Assurance Company for dithering on payment of claim to the Maharashtra-based jeweller by claiming that the valuables should have been shifted to a safe even during lunch hour during which the showroom was locked.

The insurance company's bid to give a new twist to the terms of the theft cover policy was shot down by the apex consumer court, coming as welcome relief for Panchsheel Jewellers, based in Maharashtra's Thane district.

The insurance company had claimed that the insurance against theft was valid for business hours - 10 a.m. to 10 p.m - but this period did not include the lunch break.

"Their (insurance company counsel) argument amounts to bringing a stipulation into the policy which is not expressly contained in it," said the national commission's Presiding Member J.M. Malik and Member Vinay Kumar.

The theft of valuables worth Rs.22.93 lakh took place in the showroom in May 8, 2003, during the lunch break. The burglars entered the locked showroom after removing a window air-conditioner. After the incident, police managed to recover jewels worth Rs.12.47 lakh from the culprits.

On the petition of jewellery shop-owner Sunil Ganesh Mehta, the district consumer forum and the state consumer commission directed the insurance company to pay the over Rs.10 lakh claim. But the company moved the apex consumer commission against the decision.

The insurance company said the jeweller should have kept the valuables in a safe before closing the shop for the lunch break.

The apex consumer court dismissed the insurance company's appeal and said: "We have no hesitation in rejecting this contention of the revision petitioner."

The insurance company said that the policy warranted that all insured property, including cash, shall be secured in the locked safe at all time out of business hours. But the jeweller failed to do so during the lunch break, which were not included in   business hours.

The contention failed to impress the national commission which rejected the plea that the lunch hour was to be excluded from the business hours.

"Neither the revision petition nor the counsel point to any provision in the policy, which would permit such an interpretation of the lunch hours," Malik said in a recent order, a copy of which is with IANS.

The jeweller said  his business hours were from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and according to normal business practice the lunch hour was a part of the working hours.

Opposing the insurance company's stand, he said that apart from the night hours it was not feasible to shift gold ornaments from the showcase to a safe during the lunch break.

"It is not possible that every time when the shop is closed for lunch time, during business hours, to keep the ornaments again in the locker, unless during the night time. The ornaments were intact in the shop which was properly and diligently locked," Mehta said while seeking an insurance claim of Rs.10.46 lakh.

The insurance company has the option of moving Supreme Court against the national consumer commission's decision.

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