National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission

National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC): While deciding the instant appeal challenging the order of the SCDRC, Maharashtra, directing Honda Cars to pay compensation of Rs 1,00,000 to the respondent, wherein the main issue was that whether the non-deployment of the airbags constituted a manufacturing defect warranting the invoking of doctrine of punitive damages as claimed by the respondent; the Bench of Subhash Chandra (Presiding Member) and Dr Sadhna Shanker (Member), allowed the appeal and held that SCDRC’s findings vis-a-vis manufacturing defect was not established under Section 13(1)(a) of Consumer Protection Act, 1986, and was not based on any finding of fact or legal precedent. The NCDRC found that in absence of any technical expert opinion regarding the main issue, the findings of SCDRC were unsustainable.

Background and Legal Trajectory: The respondent purchased a Honda Civic1.8 S MT car from for Rs 13,20,003. The car met with an accident on 01-03-2013 on the Western Express Highway and the front portion of the car was damaged and the respondent received injuries.

The respondent approached the State Commission seeking various compensations. According to the respondent the safety air bags in the car failed to deploy despite the severe impact on the front portion of the car which was attributed to a manufacturing defect of the car.

After inspecting the car, Honda Cars informed the respondent that the external impact in the upper front had caused the car to gradually decelerate and the required conditions were not met for the sensors to deploy the airbags. It was also stated that the respondent did not wear the seat belt as prescribed, which was also a reason for the airbags not opening at the time of the accident.

SCDRC concluded that that there was no expert opinion on record to support Honda’s submission that use of the seat belt was a necessary condition for the airbags to open. SCDRC found that when the car had met with an accident, the impact of which was so forceful, the airbags should have opened as a safety feature for which the respondent had paid while purchasing the car. SCDRC also took note of the newspaper reports, which had reported that Honda Cars had recalled approximately 58,000 cars due to defects in airbags. Consequently, compensation of Rs 1,00,000/- was considered fair and just along with litigation costs of Rs 25,000.


Honda Cars contended that the respondent did not contend that the car suffered from a manufacturing defect and therefore the manufacturer cannot be held liable under the Consumer Act unless this was proved. It was argued that a brief opinion from the Western India Automobile Association did not constitute an ‘Expert Opinion’ under Section 13(1)(c) of the 1986 Act.

It was contended that the accident was a non- frontal collision close to SRS sensors and therefore the airbags did not deploy. Furthermore, there was also no extreme, offset collision with an oncoming vehicle or impact with a stationary obstacle resulting in sudden deceleration warranting deployment of the airbags as per the car’s Manual.

Per contra, the respondent argued that the price of the car with air bags was higher and the premium paid was for the additional safety feature provided by the air bags. According to the respondent, the report of the Western India Automobile Association constituted an ‘Expert Opinion’ and the report had stated that the air bags ought to have opened given the nature of the accident. Since Honda Cars defended the non-deployment of air bags on baseless grounds and denied that there was a manufacturing defect in the air bags, the respondent had claimed punitive damages of Rs 25,00,000, which the impugned order had failed to impose under Section 14 of the 1986 Act.

Commission’s Assessment and Findings: The NCDRC noted that Consumer Act, 1986 mandates the requirement of expert opinion from an appropriate laboratory in order to establish deficiency under Section 13 and remedy under Section 14.

The Commission noted that to establish that a product has inherent defects, a Consumer Forum has to necessarily obtain a report from a person/organization who is an expert in the field and is an ‘appropriate’ agency as defined under the 1986 Act. Only after establishing such a defect can the Forum award damages or consider award of punitive damages.

The NCDRC pointed that the afore-stated process was not adopted in the instant case. The Commission pointed out that the report of the Western India Automobile Association cannot be relied upon as an ‘expert opinion’ for the reason that the Association is neither an ‘appropriate laboratory’ as defined in Section 2(1)(a) of the 1986 Consumer Act nor does it provide any assessment of the failure of the airbags to deploy with reference to the Manual and the accident in terms of the speed, direction and location of the impact of the collision based on which a finding of whether the sensors should or should not have activated the airbags has been arrived at.

The NCDRC further pointed out that reliance on newspaper reports with regard to recall of similar cars from the market cannot help the respondent as further details of cars in terms of batch or chassis numbers has not been brought on record by the respondent. Therefore, it has not been established whether the car in question was specifically liable to suffer from the same or similar defect pertaining to airbags in these cars. The NCDRC pointed out that issue of seatbelts not being condition precedent to the deployment of airbags has not been supported by any evidence.

[Honda Cars India Ltd. v. Ushat Gulgule, 2024 SCC OnLine NCDRC 49, decided on 02-04-2024]

*Order by Subhash Chandra, Presiding Member

Advocates who appeared in this case :

For Appellant- Amol Chitale, Shweta Singh Parihar, Sarthak Sharma and Priya S. Bhalerao, Advocates

For Respondent- Sachin Saini, Advocate proxy

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