‘A dangerous cobra snake... sitting on files deliberately to bite the consumer’; ‘a blood- sucking leech’; ‘a maker of false promises’. These are some of the adjectives used by the New Delhi District Consumer Forum to describe insurance companies, which are denying claims.
A typical insurance policy document announces its benefits in big, bold typeface, usually accompanied by smiling faces. But the ‘terms and conditions’ attached with the benefits come in fine print, mentioned either at the back of the policy brochure or in the proposal form, or in one of the multiple ‘formality’ documents one is told to fill up at the time of subscribing to a policy. Often, insurance firms cite the fine print to deny claims.
Holding the fine print terms as “unconscionable” and “meaningless”, the consumer forum headed by Judge C K Chaturvedi and members S R Chaudhury and Asha Kumar have slapped punitive damages worth Rs 65,000 for “harassment, deficiency, unfair trade practice...and litigation expenses” against an insurance company.
The case relates to medical insurance cover for a patient who had undergone cataract surgery. The patient, a woman, had a policy from Royal Sundaram Alliance Insurance Company. The cost of surgery came to around Rs 90,000. But the firm said it could not reimburse more than Rs 7,500 under the mediclaim policy.
The consumer forum asked the insurance company to reimburse the entire sum on the ground that the note on the policy’s cover did not mention the limit for cataract operations.
While submitting its response in the case, the company reproduced the terms and conditions of the policy in bigger, bolder font. The court noted, “This is nothing but a deliberate attempt to keep stringent conditions away from the eye of the insured, as far as possible. This is (true) with all insurance companies, as we observe daily.”
The court also rejected the plea that the terms and conditions were part of a “conscious” contract between the company and the customer. “These terms and conditions need to be shown as duly explained and accepted... they are one-sided... in fine print... and consumers have little choice but to accept,” the court