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What Is the Similarity between Dumpers and Pizza Deliveries?
Both Can KILL
Behram Doctor, a chartered accountant, was a dear friend and a very decent human being. On 29 September 2011, he got on to his motor-bike to take it to the garage for servicing. At Mahalaxmi, being a law-abiding citizen, he waited for the traffic signals to change in his favour.
A municipal dumper hit him from behind and he fell to the ground. But fortunately he was unhurt. A policeman whistled. The dumper driver tried to flee. Behram Doctor was crushed to death.
Everyone wants a hot, hot pizza; abhi-ka-abhi
The practice started in USA where pizza deliveries competed with one another in terms of time. The race was about which chain delivered the fastest. Some even offered not to charge if the order was not at your doorstep within the guaranteed period!
And in one such case, a child was run over and killed. Two deaths. Two maladies. What are the remedies? Now you be the judge. Who is responsible?
In the pizza delivery case, the court came to the conclusion that the pizza-maker was equally to blame—as much as the driver of the offending vehicle. The company had set time-limits, forcing the staff to drive recklessly. The court opted for the doctrine of vicarious liability. It means that the responsibility is transferred to a related party also.
We believe this to be a perfect judgement. An employer is, thus, roped in when his staff acts irresponsibly in the conduct of their duties. The pizza company was bound to ensure that its drivers obeyed the law and took the necessary precautions.
A master has to be held responsible for the acts of his servants in the course of the job.
Fortunately, such a law is taking root in India. A few weeks back, a minor son took his dad’s car out for a drive. An accident followed. The father was booked too. It is immaterial whether the father was aware or not. It is the dad’s duty to properly secure his vehicle. It is akin to allowing your child to play with your licensed revolver! A car in inexperienced hands is a homicidal weapon.
Next, should not car-owners be held liable when their drivers fail to obey laws or are involved in accidents? How often are drivers appointed solely because one is available for Rs500 less than another? How many background checks are ever made before hiring chauffeurs?
Every morning, private taxis speed on Marine Drive to pick up passengers from south Mumbai hotels. Accidents are inevitable. Is the cab company held responsible, especially when it knows that the driver departed late and would, therefore, over-speed?
Coming back to Mr Doctor, we are told that the dumper driver was so young that he could not possibly be the holder of a heavy vehicle licence. He was not a municipal employee. He worked for a transporting contractor and was ostensibly on a contractor’s payroll, where the contractor is farmed out work on municipality-owned dumpers. Are not all three, the driver, the contractor and the municipality/officer, responsible?
There is a further catch here. Just like the pizza delivery boys, these contract drivers are given a minimum number of trips to make per day. Their pay depends on that quota. It is the same with cement-mixers and earth-movers/garbage transporters.
Does the vehicle-owning agency ensure public safety by keeping tabs, or better still, by building the necessary features into their contracts? Should they be left untouched after awarding the contract to bidders of successful tenders? Has anyone even thought of this necessity? We bet not.
Now you be the judge. And, in this case, be both, the Devil’s advocate as well as a recommender of rules.
And, the next time you order a pizza, please try not to impose restrictions. You never know whose child is next.
The choice can be stark. A hot pizza or a cold body.
Bapoo Malcolm is a practising lawyer in Mumbai. Please email your comments to [email protected] or [email protected]
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