Toyota Innova’s airbag failed to open in an accident, car owner to get Rs 32.07 lakh or a new vehicle, orders NCDRC

Toyota Innova's airbag failed to open in an accident, car owner to get Rs 32.07 lakh or a new vehicle, orders NCDRC

The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) has held in a recent case that a Toyota Innova car, which was sold to Sunil Reddy, was defective. The front airbag(s) of the car did not open at the time of an accident. When the legal fight reached the NCDRC, the commission directed Toyota Kirloskar Motors and Nandi Toyota Motor World (a car dealership) to either return Rs 15 lakh with 9% interest or give a new Toyota Innova car to Reddy, who is the victim in this case, after more than 12 years of the accident.

Reddy purchased a Toyota Innova VX Diesel 7-Seater model on March 11, 2011, which met with an accident on August 16, 2011. The car hit an auto rickshaw near Ulindakonda village of Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh. After the accident, Reddy handed over the Innova car to Nandi Toyota Motor World’s service centre in Bengaluru. “However, without providing any estimation or intimation, they proceeded with repairs, including welding works on the vehicle’s body,” alleged Reddy.

When the company refused to accept the fault and compensate, Reddy sent a legal notice but did not get a reply, hence, he took the matter to the district consumer forum. Reddy alleged that, “During the accident, the airbags… failed to deploy. The front portion of the vehicle sustained severe damage, and all the occupants suffered injuries.”

Fight starts in District Consumer Forum

After several hearings about the case, the District Forum passed an order favourable to Reddy on November 27, 2014. The order read:

  • Partly allowed the complaint and directed OP-1 (Toyota Kirloskar Motors) & OP-2 (Nandi Toyota Motor World Limited) to replace the vehicle to the complainant, of the same model with new one and if such vehicle is not available, to return the amount of Rs 15,09,415/- with interest @ 9% p.a. from the date of accident (16.08.2011) till the date of payment.
  • Directed OP-1 (Toyota Kirloskar Motors) & OP-2 (Nandi Toyota Motor World Limited) to pay a sum of Rs 10,000/- towards compensation for mental agony; and to pay Rs. 5,000/- towards cost of litigation to the complainant.

Toyota challenged the order and deemed it ‘whimsical, conjectural, without merit, and beyond the periphery of reasonableness.’ An appeal was filed by Toyota in the State Consumer Commission. However, the appeal was rejected, and the order of the District Forum was upheld by the State Commission.

Why Toyota was not ready to pay the Innova car owner or replace the vehicle?

Lawyers defending Toyota said that SRS front airbags used in this Innova car are designed to deploy in severe frontal collisions. However, in this specific case, Toyota said that the collision occurred on the left side hence the airbags did not open.”The failure or otherwise of the airbag should be tested based on two factors: frontal collision and forward deceleration or the speed at which the vehicle stops. These factors were not considered, much less examined, by the State Commission or the District Forum. The airbag could be deemed to have malfunctioned only if it does not deploy when the frontal impact exceeds the set threshold level. Without this assessment, it is not safe to conclude a failure of the airbag to deploy. In the case of a side collision, the airbag could not have possibly deployed, a fact supported by the Owner’s Manual. SRS front airbags are generally not designed to inflate if the vehicle is involved in a side or rear collision or if it rolls over, or if it is involved in a low-speed frontal collision,” said Toyota’s Lawyers.According to Saumya Brajmohan, Partner, Solomon & Co, a law firm, the primary defence of Toyota was that the frontal collision did not occur and that it was a side collision, so airbags didn’t deploy. However, the District and State Commissions, after hearing the evidence on record, concluded that the collusion was frontal. “The fact that the airbags did not deploy despite frontal collision would amount to manufacturing defect leading to deficiency in service,” says Brajmohan.

Disagreeing with the outcome of the case, Toyota filed an appeal with NCDRC.

Case goes to NCDRC

Toyota argued before NCDRC that the technology used in the vehicle (Innova) is approved by the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI), which has expertise and international recognition. Further, Toyota also gave a statement that when the said vehicle was repaired, the necessary sensors for airbag deployment did not require a change so a re-examination of evidence should be done by NCDRC.

NCDRC hears expert’s testimony about the type of collision

NCDRC heard testimonies from Prashant Kumar, an expert called upon by Reddy and V.Karthikeyan, an expert employed by Toyota. Kumar stated that there is evidence that the collision was frontal, and that the airbags should have deployed. “Though this witness was grilled, nothing has been elicited to demolish the aforesaid assertion made by him in the evidence,” said NCDRC.

Karthikeyan said before NCDRC that he inspected the vehicle in September 2011 and found out that it was a side collision, so the SRS Airbags didn’t deploy. “In the cross-examination, he admitted that initially, it was a side collision, but, later, it might have turned into a frontal collision. He has also admitted that he did not observe the opposite vehicle involved in the accident,” said NCDRC.

Auto driver’s FIR proves it was frontal collision at high speed

The auto driver and his passengers too sustained injuries in this car accident and thus an FIR was filed in this regard. “Exhibit A-5 is a crucial document, it is the FIR presented by the driver of the auto,” said NCDRC.

It is said in the FIR that the driver of the car was driving the car with ‘terrific speed’ and dashed against the auto from the ‘front side’ and the auto turned turtle. “It is also mentioned that the auto driver and other inmates of the auto and the car sustained injuries. This document itself is sufficient to prove that the vehicle was driven with terrific speed and there was a frontal collision at the time of the accident,” said NCDRC.

NCDRC passes its judgement in February 2024

In an order dated February 16, 2024, NCDRC said, “We find no reason to interfere with the well-reasoned orders of the District Forum and State Commission. Hence, the order of the State Commission is upheld. Accordingly, the revised petition is dismissed. As the District Forum has held both the OP-1/Petitioner (Toyota Kirloskar) and OP-2 (Nandi Toyota) liable, they shall implement the order of the District Forum within 30 days from today. They are liable jointly and severely. On replacement of the vehicle with a new one or refund of the amount as per order of the District Forum; the complainant will hand over the existing vehicle to the OP-1 and OP-2.”

If Toyota decides to the refund money to Reddy, they will have to pay Rs 15,09,415+9% of Rs 15,09,415*12.5 years= Rs 15,09,415+ 16,98,091.875= Rs 32,07,506.875.

“In my opinion, non-resolution of a complaint of manufacturing defect would mean deficiency in service, under the Act,” says Rishi Segal, Advocate on Record, Supreme Court of India.

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