Perils of Visiting a Bank – When Accidents on Branch Premises Leave Customers with Huge Costs and No Compensation
Maya M 09 April 2022
Who would have thought that accessing a bank locker would turn into a dangerous expedition, especially for senior citizens? Last week, we carried a report on how an 80-year-old diabetic man spent an entire night in Union Bank’s locker room due to the negligence of the Bank's staff. He survived the traumatic ordeal and was discovered only by chance after his family lodged a police complaint. That is why the story made headlines around the country. 
 
In Mumbai, DS Ranga Rao, 71, a retired intelligence bureau (IB) officer has been fighting a dogged battle with State Bank of India (SBI) to even acknowledge the negligence which caused him to suffer a fall from an unsuitable ladder, leading to severe injuries and medical treatment. Four months later, he needs a walker for support and regular sessions of physiotherapy.
 
Mr Rao’s mistake was hoping that the Bank will treat its customers right or that the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) much-touted and revived central banking ombudsman would look at customer issues with compassion. In fact, both SBI and the banking ombudsman rejected his claim for compensation, based on what Mr Rao alleges are false claims by the Bank. 
 
The Story
 
On 3rd December, Mr Rao and his wife visited SBI’s Jekegram branch at Thane, after almost 2.5 years of COVID restrictions. The locker room had a shaky, unstable ladder (with wheels without brakes) which skidded, causing him to fall and sustain major fractures to his thigh (femur bone) and wrist, leading to multiple surgeries and hospitalisation.
 
After his wife raised an alarm, the Bank staff rushed to help him. An ambulance was called at Mr Rao's cost to send him to the hospital. According to the doctors, the disability he suffered due to the fall is permanent and he will have to live with it for the rest of his life.
 
SBI, Jekegram branch, says Mr Rao, did not have any contingency plans or standard operating procedures (SOPs) to deal with such situations. They were not even equipped to offer first-aid nor the training to rush patients to hospital. Logically, SBI, India’s largest bank ought to have an insurance cover for such rare contingencies and must accept responsibility for an accident and injury to a customer on its premises—especially when it was due to its own faulty infrastructure. Instead, the Bank refused to acknowledge any responsibility or offer a compensation.
 
Mr Rao has spent over Rs6 lakh for surgery, OPD treatment and physiotherapy in the past few months. Under guidance from Moneylife Foundation, he followed the procedure of filing a complaint with the branch, escalating it to the nodal officer and then taking it up with the banking ombudsman (BO) office. At each stage his claim and contention was rejected without even the effort to speak to him. Shockingly, this happened even at the RBI’s new central ombudsman level, which claims to be a much improved version of the previous system. 
 
In fact, the office of BO told him that his "Complaint is rejected under Clause 16(2)(a) of the Reserve Bank - Integrated Ombudsman Scheme, 2021 : 'In the opinion of the Ombudsman, there is no deficiency in service'.”
 
 
Picture of the ladder which has now been fitted with brakes
 
The BO's response says: “In your complaint, you have sought reimbursement of all medical expenses less insurance and CGHS offered and also suitable compensation for mental agony etc. caused to you on account of an accident within the bank’s premises. The bank has informed that they have total of 1235 lockers and approximately 10 to 12 customers daily visit to operate their locker. The bank has never received any complaint/suggestion about the ladder placed in the locker room nor it has received any request from you, being a senior citizen, to change the locker, prior to the incident. The bank has also informed that they are arranging locker which is suitable to your height and age, after due documentation. As such, no deficiency is observed against the bank.”
 
But the fact is that Mr Rao fell off the ladder inside the Bank’s premises and was rushed to hospital from the branch—basic facts that are undeniable but apparently of no relevance to the RBI ombudsman. Further, there is a good chance that the condition of infrastructure would have deteriorated in the two years when access was restricted due to COVID. More importantly, Mr Rao has now learnt that SBI has since modified the ladder and fitted it with brakes to prevent skidding (after what happened in his case).  
 
To add insult to injury, the RBI ombudsman has decreed the complaint closed under a clause that is non-appealable. His only choice is to approach a court or consumer forum. 
 
Property-owners and non-owner residents have a responsibility to maintain a relatively safe environment so that people who come to the property don't suffer an injury. This responsibility is known as ‘premises liability’, which holds property-owners and residents liable for accidents and injuries that occur on their property. 
 
According to laws in several countries, a customer is regarded as an invitee. An invitee is someone who is invited to the property of another, such as a customer in a store or a bank. This invitation usually implies that the property-owner/possessor has taken reasonable steps to assure the safety of the premises. 
 
Mr Rao’s complaint has now been escalated to RBI  deputy governor, Rajeshwar Rao, who says he will look into it. SBI’s attitude exemplifies the attitude to its customers and the lack of enforceable legal liability for the well-being of customers while on their premises. 
Comments
sherna.gandhy
9 months ago
Access to public places like banks is pathetic. As a partially disabled senior citizen I can never visit my two banks without taking someone with me to help. My locker is in a sort of basement where you go down in the lift and then have toclimb down a flight of stairs to get to the locker room. The bank was rebuilt some 5 or six years ago so why not have the lift go right down?
It took me several complaints and a letter to get the other bank I visit to fix railings to the steps one has to climb to get in. It has no ramp for wheelchair or walker .
It's not as if these buildings are aesthetic and adding accesible infrastructure would mar them. It's sheer lack of concern for customers.
dvayalamkuzhi
10 months ago
The RBI BO's observation in Mr Rao's case absolving the bank of its responsibility is absurd and tantamount to bring a bad name to the institution besides causing erosion to credibility of such entities. The BO was least bothered to go through the merits of the case as the sufferings meted out by Shri Rao and his family cannot be measured by sitting pretty as they have not even bothered to gather the facts from the victim. If this is the attitude of power that be, then it will hardly take time for a common man to loss faith in the system.
khuzema128
10 months ago
RBI or banking ombudsman is not doing anything... It's just an complaint table which has its same answer as it is here for all public.
In my case where I have been denied with Rs.10000/- by ATM of ICICI BANK.
I have neither received any proof of receipt of money either from RBI or ICICI
nor any CCTV footage but the reply that my case is closed and can not be escalated for further investigations. Its fooling to general public under the name of ombudsman umbrella. The never reveals truth.
raaajan03
10 months ago
Most of the bank ombudsmen do not exercise any judgement and pass orders favoring banks and this has been the practice for several years. With RBI turning blind eye to complaints from customers nothing is ever going to change.
yerramr
10 months ago
It is a pity senior citizens are scantily treated. When we cite RBI guidelines and advertisement that the banks should serve citizens at home, the branch managers say that they do not have enough staff to perform such task and they are short of even counter staff. RBI regulations keep coming, he said. Did not the SBI follow the RBI directives? Of course, in the particular case relating to Safe Deposit locker seize of Mr. Ranga Rao such guidelines would not apply. But shifting the liability to the customer is very sad and the RBI-Ombudsman's insensitivity speaks volumes of how the regulator fails to implement the spirit of guidelines of the RBI. Both the Ombudsman and the Bank staff who treated shabbily the customer complaint should be punished severely.
sreenivasamurthyg.canbank
10 months ago
Mr. Ranga Rao, my sympathies to you. It is the primary duty of every staff in the Bank to be humane first and extend all possible help. May be the Bank's staff including the Administrative Offices to see how the customer comfort is at the branches and tune up according to changing times. In your case being a senior citizen, you must have been given a locker which you could have operated comfortably without the use of ladder.
deepak.narain
10 months ago
It is a matter of shame to all the authorities involved. Instead of bearing the cost of ambulance and treatment, and paying compensation, they are making the now handicapped person to run from pillar to post, in vain. The rules of customer service need to be reviewed and improved. The Finance Minister should also be addressed.
gopalakrishnan.tv
10 months ago
It is really unfortunate that Mr Rao had an accidental fall in the banks premises using a damaged ladder and he suffered serious injuries causing physical financial mental and other agonies fighting the case with insensitive complaints redressal mechanism. Since the matter has been escalated to a very senior level at RBI chances are that the issue would be sorted out and bank would be made accountable for its negligence and casualness in keeping the locker area unsafe and non customer friendly equipments endangering the lives of customers. Given a chance ignore and kill the customers seem to be the new philosophy in banks in particular and generally any service oriented institutions. People suffer as fait accompli these days as laxity in Governance and misuse and abuse of technology come very handy for avoiding customers and harassing them. Keep your Customers AWAY or Kill your Customers seem to be the the KYC NORM IN PRACTICE INSTEAD OF KNOWING AND UNDERSTANDING THE CUSTOMERS AS PARTNERS OF BUSINESS IN BANKS.
rangarao.ds
Replied to gopalakrishnan.tv comment 10 months ago
The Bank argued that I should've foreseen the danger and asked for an alternative locker! But they are not ready to admit the ill-maintenance of the accessories provided to the customers. If it were not for their improper maintenance, how and why was the ladder now fitted with brakes which were not there earlier?
flyhigh4navneet
Replied to rangarao.ds comment 10 months ago
Bank authorities if are so bad in the cities. One can understand how irresponsible are they in the small towns and far flung villages. The bank's in my town Sikandra Rao, feels that they are favouring people by doing the services they bound to do. Faulty ATMs, More than 100 customers per day. No chairs for the customers to sit.No services to help anyone. Old and disabled people sit on floor
gopalakrishnan.tv
Replied to rangarao.ds comment 10 months ago
The bank is totally at fault and instead of admitting and feeling sorry for all its lapses it is defending and fighting the case is a misfortune . I am sure the top management of RBI would show the wisdom and do full justice to the customer in the matter. I hope the bank would get a demonstrative punishment so that such instances do not recur anywhere in any bank.
jaishirali
10 months ago
And yet, some PSU banks carry a statement ascribed to Mahatma Gandhi, which starts off with, "The customer is the most important visitor to our premises...." !
rangarao.ds
10 months ago
Thank you very much, MLF, for your sympathies. Hope this article will be an eye-opener to the powers-that-be. However, I only pray that none of the bank staff, let alone customers, should meet the same fate as I did.
srinivas997
10 months ago
Low / no standard of safety compliance to the inherent hazards.
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