Consumer Court Relies on Uphaar Cinema Fire Case to Compensate Filmgoer Bitten by Rat

Nearly two and a half decades later, the Uphaar Cinema fire case is again back in the news. A consumer court cited one of the many observations of the case to provide relief to a cinemagoer in Assam.

According to the complainant, on October 20, 2018, she had gone to Galleria Cinemas at Bhangagarh in Guwahati with her family. She alleged that the cinema hall was not properly managed. Empty bottles, leftover popcorn, and other waste materials could be seen accumulated behind the seats. After the interval, she noticed that something bit her on a foot and it was bleeding. Looking at the condition of the cinema hall, she assumed it to be a snakebite.

The complainant was rushed to a nearby hospital where she was kept under observation for two hours for a rat bite. The woman was later administered rabies shots and prescribed medicines. In her complaint, she said that these medicines were strong and caused problems, hampering her efficiency.

The complainant was also aggrieved by the contemptuous behaviour shown by the cinema hall management. According to her, no person representing the cinema hall was there to accompany her to the hospital, even though the shift manager had agreed to do so. Apparently, she and her husband also tried to settle the incident, but two deputy managers refused to do so. They offered her free film tickets whereas what she needed was first aid.

She then approached the Kamrup District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (DCDRC). She demanded Rs 6,02,282.48 from the cinema hall management. It includes respective sums of Rs 3,50,000 and Rs 2,50,000 compensation for mental agony and pain and suffering, along with her mental suffering.

On their part, the cinema hall managers contended that the woman had refused to take first aid and go to the nearest hospital. They alleged that the complainant only wanted to harass them. They also contested the claim that the cinema hall was not cleaned. Instead, they submitted that pest control and other measures to maintain hygiene are standard practice. Consequently, they asked the commission to reduce the compensation amount to Rs 15,000.

However, they did not provide any document to refute the allegations by the complainant. On the contrary, the woman had various documents proving her visit to Nemcare Hospital and having been administered anti-rabies shots.

The pertinent question was whether the hall authorities could be held liable for the rat bite. Only after establishing that, a compensatory mechanism could be established. The bench comprising president AFA Bora, and members Archana Deka Lakhar and Tutumoni Deva Goswami relied on the Uphaar Cinema fire tragedy case to establish their liability.

“What is important is that the duty to care is not a one-time affair. It is a continuing obligation which the occupier owes towards every invitee contractual or otherwise every time an exhibition of the cinematograph takes place. What is equally important is that not only under the common law but even under the statutory regimen, the obligation to ensure safety of the invitees is undeniable, and any neglect of the duty is actionable both as a civil and criminal wrong, depending upon whether the negligence is simple or gross,” said one of the observations.

Relying on this and a thorough reading of evidence and oral testimonies at its disposal, the consumer court concluded that there is no regular sweeping after each show. Food, popcorn, and other items being regularly present on the floor are the reason why rats are moving around. It is due to a lack of proper hygiene and supervision to ensure the safety and hygienic condition of the cinema hall, it said.

Establishing liability under Cinematograph Act, the consumer court said, “As such we are of the view that the opp. parties were negligent in maintaining the hygienic condition of the cinema hall for giving proper service to the viewers as required under Cinematography Act and other obligations of the owners of the hall.”

However, the court reduced the amount of compensation sought by the complainant. For mental agony, she is to be paid Rs 40,000 while for pain and suffering, Rs 20,000 has to be paid to her. Ultimately, the hall authorities were directed to pay a cumulative compensation amount of Rs 67,282 to the complainant within 45 days. Failing this would entail an interest of 12 per cent per annum.

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