Fights among children is common in schools. However, if it results into an injury, the school becomes liable for failing in its duty to monitor the students and enforce discipline. This path-breaking judgment was given by the Maharashtra State Commission on September 1, 2017 in case of Rahul Joshi of Michael High School in Kurla.
Joshi, a 9th standard student, was in his classroom on June 13, 2013, at 9.10 am. The classroom has no teacher or any other adult. Joshi and another student got into an argument, leading to a physical fight. The other boy twisted Joshi’s arm so badly that his bone broke and the arm came sagging down, revealing a fracture. The entire incident was captured on CCTV.
Joshi had to undergo surgery for which heavy medical expenses were incurred. Although a brilliant student, he also suffered academically due to his inability to attend school. Aggrieved, Joshi filed a consumer complaint through his father against the trustees, principal, and manager of Michel High School.
The Additional Consumer Forum for Mumbai Suburban District dismissed the complaint, so Joshi went in appeal. The Maharashtra State Commission viewed the CCTV footage. It observed that the students are minors who are in the custody of the school management, which concluded, that the management was answerable, responsible, and liable for this deficiency and negligence in taking care of the children in its custody.
While taking this view, the State Commission took into consideration the judgement of the National Commission in S Somasunderam v/s The Correspondent, Sri Chakravarthy International Matriculation Academy, where it was held that a school which admits a student automatically undertakes the responsibility to look after the safety of the child during the school hours. The Commission also noted that the school was charging Rs 9,000 a month to provide educational services. The student as well as the parents, consequently, were consumers of the services rendered by the school.
The Commission indicted the school for its failure to take proper precautionary measures to prevent the incident, and also for its negligence in providing timely medical assistance after the assault. It observed that apart from the treatment cost of Rs 1.5 lakh, the incident had also caused mental anguish, for which the school would be liable. The school had unilaterally sent four cheques through courier for a total amount of Rs 51,000 only, which Joshi’s father refused to accept, insisting that the entire amount for the medical treatment should be borne by the school.
Agreeing with Joshi’s father’s contentions, by its order of September 1, 2017 delivered by Justice A P Bhangale for the Bench along with Member A K Zade, the State Commission directed the school to pay Rs 1.5 lakh towards medical expenses. In addition, Rs 50,000 was awarded a compensation for the anguish caused to Rahul and his family, and Rs 25,000 towards litigation costs. The entire amount was ordered to be paid within two months, and if delayed, it would carry 9 per cent interest from June 13, 2013, onwards when the assault took place.
The author is a consumer activist