State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (SCDRC), Chandigarh: While deciding the instant appeal filed by VLCC Health Care Ltd. against the order of the District Consumer Court whereby they were directed to refund and compensate the respondent for the mental agony caused due to the failure of VLCC's weight loss program; the Bench of Raj Shekhar Attri, J. (President) and Rajesh K. Arya (Member) observed that VLCC's act of giving false assurances on one hand by way of misleading advertisements, and on the other hand obtaining a declaration from the consumers qua no guarantee/assurance regarding the result and outcome of the program, is a clear example of unfair trade practices adopted by them, and for which the consumers cannot be made to suffer at their hands. “The appellants are very much held liable to refund the amount paid by the respondent purely on the basis of their own advertisement, ‘Lose 4 Kgs in 30 days or take your money back!'”.
Facts of the case: In March 2015, the respondent took VLCC's weight loss program (A)+(B) for reduction of 5 kg weight and 4-inch loss of tummy circumference within one month, and paid advance for the program amounting to Rs. 50,000. The respondent visited VLCC for the sittings as detailed by them but there was no visible result. The respondent even discussed the matter with VLCC stating that he had undertaken 30 sessions but there has been no progress on weight loss, and he could manage to lose 1Kg by diet control only, and thus sought refund.
In order to allure the respondent, VLCC showed him an imported costly machine through which the treatment would be done. Thus, the respondent was induced to take up the program and money back guarantee and pay another amount of Rs.28,000 again on 31-03-2017. However, upon observing no improvement in weight loss and inch reduction, the respondent took the matter to the concerned Court.
Contentions: VLCC argued that the respondent was satisfied with his first weight loss program which is why he chose to purchase the new treatment; if there was any sort of dissatisfaction, the respondent would not have gone ahead to buy the second program. It was further argued that the respondent did not remain regular for the treatment nor followed his diet as per the terms of the treatment despite several suggestions by VLCC's representatives. The futility of the weight loss program was due to the respondent's own unhealthy dietary habits and not due VLCC's alleged deficient service.
It was submitted that the respondent had given a specific undertaking duly signed by him that he understands that no guarantee could be given to him regarding the result and outcome of the program and in circumstances of unsatisfactory results due to factors beyond the control of the staff of VLCC, he shall not be entitled to claim/damages or to hold VLCC or its staff liable.
Per contra, the respondent contended that the plea of VLCC with regard to disclaimer cannot be accepted in view of the fact that they specifically mentioned that “Lose 4 kgs in a month or your money will be refunded”, which clearly shows that VLCC were misguiding the consumer by a misleading advertisement and in case they don't lose weight then puzzle them in disclaimer clause which is a clear case of deficiency in service.
Observations and Decision
Perusing the facts, contentions and reasoning behind the District Commission's Order, the Bench pointed out that the contention raised by VLCC vis-a-vis the disclaimer is not sustainable in the eyes of the law because VLCC's own advertisement loudly and proudly claimed- “Lose 4 Kgs in 30 days or take your money back!”
The State Commission relied on its precedent in Shipra Sachdeva v. VLCC Health Care Ltd., [First Appeal No.93 of 2008], which dealt with similar issues as raised in the instant appeal. The State Commission also relied on NCDRC's decision in Divya Sood v. Gurdeep Kaur Bhuhi, 2006 SCC OnLine NCDRC 76, which raised the concerns surrounding “tempting advertisements, giving misleading statements (…) persons lured to pay large amount to such bodies in a hope that they can reduce their weight by undergoing the so-called treatment”. It was observed that the acts of allurement and unfair trade practice via misleading emails and advertisements, wasted the respondent's precious time, energy and money over a weight loss program that was not fruitful eventually.
With the afore-stated observations, the State Commission held that VLCC's advertisements claiming, “Lose 4 Kgs in 30 days or take your money back”, squarely falls under the definition of ‘misleading advertisement' as defined in Section 2(28) of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. Therefore, the appeal was dismissed.
[VLCC Health Care Ltd. v. Vijay Aggarwal, Appeal No. 14 0f 2022, decided on 10-08-2022]
Advocates who appeared in this case :
Atul Goyal, Advocate, for the appellants;
Harsh Nagra, Advocate, for the respondent.
*Sucheta Sarkar, Editorial Assistant has prepared this brief.