Damages Claim: How Much Is Too Much?
This is a tale of two servings. One denied, the other unwanted. Both problematic.
Linda Atkins, a sales associate, got $277,565 (nearly Rs2 crore) in back pay and compensatory damages after being fired for drinking orange juice prior to paying the Rs120 for it. The operative word is ‘prior’. Her company had a Pehle daam, baad may kaam, policy. Pay first, drink later. She had not.
Linda was a diabetic. People with ‘sugar’ problems face two life-threatening situations. Hyperglycaemia or hypoglycaemia—excess sugar in the first case, and very low sugar in the latter. The swings come about because of insulin imbalance, often caused by medication. In the latter case, when the levels touch rock bottom, a quick bite of chocolate, or a spoonful of sugar does the trick. The dizziness disappears. But speed is of the essence. Linda would rush to the sweet drink dispenser before she collapsed.
Linda, therefore, asked for a juice bottle near her station. The supervisor demurred, quoting rules. Twice she had to rush to get her sweet drink and she paid for it afterwards. ‘Violation’, claimed the auditor, and diabetic Linda was unceremoniously thrown out of her job. Linda sued.
It transpired that the company had accommodating rules, but the supervisors were unaware of them. In fact, regulations require a private area to test sugar levels, to administer injections or medication till return to normal and special breaks for eating and drinking. Linda was denied all that. 
We started this article with the result; no need for acting the judge. We, therefore, go to the next story. 
You be the judge on that.
One Ms Pahade was en-route to New York from Mumbai. She was served, she claimed, a hair in her rice and curd as ‘green as cherry’. She sued. The district consumer forum awarded her Rs15,000 as compensation. 
On appeal, the state forum increased the amount to Rs1 lakh. It said the passenger would have had to go for long without food. The airline would have none of it. It appealed.
The airline claimed that it had fined the caterer Rs20,000. This was an admission of the fact that the food was suspect. But it considered the amount to be paid too high.
How would you decide? That the food was inedible is established. The only point of dispute is the amount. Is a lakh of rupees too much, too little or just enough?
Here, we enter uncharted waters every time. Is there a chart detailing fines? No, there is not. Are fines decided on the whims and fancies of the judges? Both parties often think so. One wishes for more; the other hopes for less. Torts have a way of queering the pitch, almost every time.
Again, we say, “If there is a malady, there needs be a remedy.” Usually, the remedy is monetary compensation. This leads us into unknown terrain, every time. How much is good enough? Or is the good enough too little? The matter becomes subjective and soon a law may be made to limit the payouts, both minimum and maximum. Until then, the wishes of the judge and his, or her, perception is the guide.
These ‘awards’, as they are called, are termed ‘The Stella Awards’. After a woman called Stella, then 69. It is reported that she drove into a drive-in cafeteria and ordered a cup of coffee. She drove out, holding the cup between her thighs. Naturally, the coffee spilled; hot, hot coffee. Stella was scalded. She sued. Her grouse was that she had not been warned that the coffee was hot and there was no warning printed on the cup. Warning her that it was hot coffee.
You be the judge. 
Yes, Stella was paid. Damages. To the tune of US$2,900,000/-. That’s nearly Rs20 crore! Long live Stella and American awards!
Thorin O
5 years ago
Ultimately any exchange of goods and services between the business and consumer is a contractual agreement. Question then becomes how gravely the terms & condition of contract has been violated. If the violation is minor and only affects an individual or few then the remedial compensation (penalty) can be minor or none. But if it affects the entire society then in such cases the compensation (penalty) would be larger. To an individual when the victim is awarded a large figure the Indian society would view it as victim being greedy. But the American society would view it as fair because the idea of high value compensation is not to enrich the victim but penalize the business in such a way that it compels the business to change its behaviour and practices for good so that the individual and society-at-large greatly benefits out of the ordeal for good. It is win-win for all and also is the way the market participants (and NOT Government or Regulatory Body) can keep a check on businesses.
Abhishek Singh
Replied to Thorin O comment 5 years ago
I would not view "victims" like Stella as greedy but would the system as crooked. Also, instead of paying very large amount to an individual, it should go to some regulator for awareness related to the case so that other victims could also be aware and sue (if required)...
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