Ensuring public safety through liability insurance

The tragic death of the KK singer in Kolkata must be fresh on everyone’s mind. It was during a concert that he had a cardiac arrest and died during his transport to the hospital. While the cause of the singer’s death remains unknown, questions have been raised about arrangements at the site, where the air conditioning was apparently not working properly. In a report, news channel NDTV said videos taken by fans at the concert showed the singer “sweating profusely as he paused to wipe his face”. Numerous social media outlets said the auditorium, which has a capacity of 2,400, was overcrowded.

This tragic loss of life raises some questions, such as why emergency medical equipment is not available in our public places. When a large number of people are going to be present, shouldn’t it be standard operating procedure to keep a well-equipped ambulance or medical van waiting on site?

Those of us who have traveled to more advanced countries know that things like defibrillators are mandatory in malls and restaurants, schools, or basically any place people visit. There should be at least one staff member trained in basic first aid. Competent authorities, such as municipalities, take these issues very seriously.

It is also likely that some people, especially the authorities, will regard these suggestions as absurd. After all, the mentality of the powers that be – and, indeed, of society in general – is that people who venture out do so at their peril. As a result, our public places are never designed with the safety and well-being of users in mind.

We have all witnessed the utterly ruthless approach of public facility managers to keep visitors safe and ensure there is an established standard operating procedure (SOP) to provide assistance in the event of an emergency. accident at the scene. Add to this the reluctance of the management of these places to help the victim of the accident which causes preventable deaths.

Let us now look at another vital dimension of this question. How safe do you feel walking the trails in your community? This is not a rhetorical question about the state of law and order. It’s all about the pure and simple worry of not knocking over a loose rock or a crack in the trail or falling into an open manhole!

If you have witnessed or been the victim of an accident due to the failure or negligence of the municipality, do you know anyone who complained to the municipality and asked for compensation?

You would probably dismiss this thought as impractical, if not downright absurd, given the difficulties of taking such an action.

Many of us simply do not even think of holding public authorities to account when we are aware that all public authorities have a duty of care to the people.

There are similar cases of injury or death to visitors caused by negligent housekeeping or unsafe layout of shopping malls, restaurants or any other commercial establishment such as shops, offices and banks.

There is little tendency to seek compensation for loss or damage suffered by a member of the public, for several reasons. First of all, a lack of awareness of its rights and of the duty of care towards people by these establishments; second, the callous attitude of the officials, owners or managers of such an establishment towards the public and finally, the reluctance to take legal action because of the hassle and expense of suing the establishment whose lack of care has caused such an accident.

A complete lack of concern for the safety of others is certainly not a sign of a civilized society. Those familiar with the situation in more developed countries know that the emphasis is on providing a safe environment for people. This concern for public safety did not happen overnight. It has evolved over the years from the law or torts and public activism.

Generally speaking, in our country, the only example of compensation imposed by law is the Motor Vehicle Act, which makes liability insurance compulsory. The principle is the same: anyone driving a motor vehicle in a public place has a duty of care towards other users of the space. This concept was recognized alongside the invention of motor vehicles and a law is in place to protect victims of accidents caused by vehicles.

In our country, too, automobile legislation provides for compulsory compensation. The public is quite aware of this, and generally speaking, all road accident victims are compensated through a well-organized system under this insurance.

It is another matter that, despite mandatory legislation, there are still a number of uninsured motor vehicles on the road, but that is an entirely separate subject.

The principle of compulsory liability insurance is that if the owner or driver of the motor vehicle is unable to compensate, the unfortunate victim should not suffer and the insurance should intervene. As a result, a comprehensive road accident victim compensation ecosystem has developed over the years.

Is there any other legislation in our country to help victims of accidents in public places? A law was enacted after the infamous Bhopal gas leak, which has been changed over the years. This is known as the Public Liability Insurance Act 1991. It is only legally required for industries and warehouses that operate in a hazardous environment.

The policy covers claims from any member of the public, customer or customer who is involved in an accident or incident, while on company premises, if the person or company concerned is found to be at fault. . This law does not require individuals, businesses and other non-commercial organizations to carry liability insurance for injury, death or damage to members of the general public visiting their premises.

Globally, liability insurance is not a mandatory product but remains a regular feature that has been highly recommended in countries like the United States. Businesses and their owners can become liable for damage or injury to another person or property if an accident occurs on their premises. The likelihood of being sued for such negligence is extremely high and the compensation can be substantial. Hence the need for liability insurance.

Why are there no laws in our country to compensate victims of accidents in public places?

It can be said that such laws for users of public places do not normally exist in other advanced countries. But the reason for the lack of compulsory liability insurance in the developed world is that people there are very aware of their rights and the duty of care owed to them by others.

Any victim of the slightest bodily or material damage promptly seeks compensation and the legal system does not hesitate to award damages, often exemplary, if mutually agreed compensation is not reached. Thus, anyone who owns or manages a public place, including businesses, takes out civil liability insurance.

As said before, in our country, people are not aware of their rights in this regard and even if they are and claim compensation, they will have to take legal action to make the negligent party pay. Therefore, owners of shops, restaurants, offices and commercial establishments have no incentive to take out insurance themselves. Public safety is the hallmark of a civilized society that is sorely lacking in our collective conscience.

What can be done? It will take a long time to create awareness of public security in our authorities. But a start must be made or countless people will continue to suffer physical and financial losses.

The first step is to educate the general public that safety is their fundamental right and that all public places should be designed with safety in mind. People should also be aware that most commercial establishments, such as banks and other large institutions, have liability insurance.

The next step is to bring an action for damages in the event of death or injury suffered by a visitor to these places. Certainly, given the creaky workings of our legal system, going to court is not always a practical or fruitful option for people. However, it is often the case that most institutions respond to legal advice purely out of fear of reputational damage.

Ultimately, this will lead to a virtuous circle in which a mechanism will evolve for the rapid resolution of liability disputes.

An important reform in this direction would be to set up special mechanisms for settling liability cases, such as consumer courts or road accident compensation courts.

As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and in our country the path to decent safety standards is going to be long and arduous. Whether civil society precedes or succeeds economic development is debatable; however, there is no doubt that it will take some form of pressure for authorities to start paying attention to public safety and a flood of compensation claims could trigger the process.

Insurance is not a panacea for all ills; However, in the long term, with the rise of these cases and the increase in the amounts of compensation, more and more establishments will take out civil liability insurance.

At the same time, insurance companies will require establishments that purchase such coverage to pay more attention to safety features and have a standard operating procedure in place in the event of an incident. In the distant future, perhaps our municipal authorities will also be forced to pay more attention to basic safety engineering in public spaces!

(Shrirang Samant has held senior positions in the general insurance sector in both public and private sectors in India and abroad. He has been aware of the transition of this industry from the public sector to the private sector. private in the country and was the founding CEO of a multinational insurance joint venture – JV in India.)