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Drycleaners cannot impose unfair conditions on customers

delhi Updated: Sep 24, 2011 23:16 IST
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Have you ever looked at the back of a drycleaner's receipt? If you do, you will be surprised at the long list of terms and conditions printed there. And if you read them, you will probably never want to give your clothes for dry cleaning!

Well, you need not worry about some of those unilateral, unfair conditions — the courts have made it clear that they are not binding on consumers.

Yet, drycleaners do try and use them to reject legitimate claims for compensation from customers. So if you ever happen to be in that situation, quote the case of Tip Top Drycleaners vs Sunil Kumar (Revision Petition No 1328 of 2003).

This case has its origin in the loss of clothes — a suit, two coats, a shirt and a tie — given for dry cleaning by the complainant, Sunil Kumar to a drycleaner in Ranchi.

When Kumar asked the drycleaner to give him the cost of the clothes, the drycleaner referred to a term on the back of the receipt that said that the liability would cease if the clothes were not picked up within two months of the due date. Since Kumar had not collected the clothes in time, he was not entitled to any compensation, the drycleaner told him.

When Kumar persisted, he pointed to another condition on the receipt which said that in case of fire, theft, misplacement or interchange, the liability of the drycleaner was limited to only 50% of the cost of the clothes and paid Kumar only Rs5,000.

So the central issue before the consumer court was whether the drycleaner could take shelter under the conditions printed on the back of the receipt and refuse to compensate the customer for the loss of clothes given for dry cleaning.

No, he cannot, said the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and pointed out that the consumer had neither seen the terms nor given his acceptance. It, thus, upheld the compensation of Rs15,050, plus costs, awarded to Kumar by the lower consumer court.

This order will certainly help consumers, but in order to prevent such unfair terms in the first place, we need to have in place a law specifically aimed at eliminating unfair terms in consumer contracts. Several countries have such regulations.

Vinita Singhal: I had given my chiffon suit for dry-cleaning to a drycleaner in Mayur Vihar II. On the due date, when I went to collect it, I found that the backside of the shirt had big holes. Till now, I have made several visits to the collection centre, made at least 30 calls and even filled up the claim form asking for Rs2,400 towards the cost of the fabric and Rs300 towards stitching charges, but they are not responding. I would like to know my rights as a consumer and how I can claim this compensation? Can I also get compensated for mental agony?

Answer: You have every right to compensation for the loss of your clothes. If the dry cleaner settles your claim voluntarily, then may be he can get away with paying only the cost of the fabric and the tailoring charges.

If he does not and you go to the consumer court, then he will have to pay you not only the cost, but also compensation for the time and money spent by you in pursuing the case with him, the harassment caused to you and also the cost of litigation.

Please write him a letter expressing your intention to go to the consumer court if he fails to settle the matter within a fortnight. If he does not pay up, file a complaint before the consumer court. pgirimaji@gmail.com