buyers beware!
Dry cleaner must pay up
Pushpa Girimaji

I had given a very expensive Tanchoi saree with lot of intricate work on it, for dry cleaning. While doing so, I even told the dry cleaner that he has to take special care of the saree and he promised to do so. Now, when he returned it, I found the saree burnt at a few places. When I asked him, he first argued that it must have been there when I gave it. When I reminded him that he had himself checked the saree before accepting it, he conceded that it had got burnt during ironing. However, he points to the terms and conditions on the receipt and says he is liable to pay only 50 per cent of the cost of the saree. Now the saree is practically useless and I cannot buy a new one with the money that he is offering. And it was my wedding saree. What can I do?

Do not worry about the terms and conditions printed on the back of the receipt. . You insist that he pay you the full amount required to buy a similar saree. You can send him a copy of your purchase receipt to prove its price. If he refuses to pay up, file a complaint before the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, seeking not only the cost of the saree, but also compensation for the disappointment of losing a saree that would have so many memories for you. I must quote here the case of Tip Top Drycleaners, vs Sunil Kumar ( Revision Petition No 1328 of 2003) where the central issue was whether the dry cleaner can take shelter under the conditions printed on the back of the receipt and refuse to compensate the customer for the loss of clothes given for dry cleaning.. Mr Sunil Kumar, the complainant, had not taken delivery of the clothes that he had given for dry cleaning to Tip Top Dry cleaners, Ranchi, on the due date. Meanwhile a fire broke out in the dry cleaners premises and completely destroyed all the goods, including Kumar’s clothes..

Initially, the dry cleaner declined to compensate Sunil Kumar and pointed to the condition on the back of the receipt which said that his liability ceased after two months if delivery was not taken on due date. Subsequently, he referred to another condition that said that in case of fire, theft, misplacement or interchange, the liability of the dry cleaner was limited to only 50 per cent of the cost of the clothes. He therefore paid him only Rs 5000 towards the cost of a suit, two coats, one shirt and a tie.

The District Consumer Forum awarded Sunil Kumar Rs 10,050 towards the cost of the garments, Rs 5000 towards compensation and Rs 500 towards costs. In response to the drycleaner’s contention that this was against the terms and conditions on the receipt, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission made it clear that those terms were not binding on the consumer. The customer had not seen the conditions nor had he signed his acceptance of those, the Commission said.

I had given an expensive new suit for dry cleaning. However, when I went to collect it, the dry cleaner told me that it had probably been collected by someone else by mistake and that he would get it back in a day. However, a month has passed by and I have still not got my suit. What do I do?

What I have said above, applies to you too. File a complaint before the consumer court. If you have a copy of the receipt showing the purchase cost of the suit, it will make the loss assessment process, easier.

On my official transfer from Chandigarh to Bangalore, I sent by road all my household goods. However, the transporter not only delayed the delivery by more than a week, but also delivered them in a damaged condition. They were all drenched in rain and completely damaged. When I demanded compensation, he said the receipt clearly said that "the goods are being transported at the owner's risk." Will this affect my chances of getting compensation?

You don't have to worry about terms and conditions printed on the receipt. The transporter cannot bind you to such terms. So go ahead and file a complaint before the consumer court, but make sure that you send a notice first. In Unichem Laboratories Limited vs New India Assurance Company and Another (August 28,2006) one of the contentions raised by the transporter was that the consignment was transported 'at owners risk' and the carrier was not responsible for the loss caused to the consignment. Dismissing such a contention, the National Commission made it clear that the carrier cannot escape liability for any loss or damage caused to the goods entrusted to its care. Quoting the Supreme Court in Nath Bros Exim International Ltd vs Best Roadways Ltd, the National Commission also emphasised that the expression ' at owners risk' did not exempt the carrier from his own negligence.