Analysis of Anita Bhandari Vs. Union of India AIR 2004 Gujarat 67

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Introduction:

Whoever does a wrongful act is held liable for it and is to pay compensation to the person harmed by his/her wrongful act. For e.g. A enters into the property of B without his permission, such an act of A amounts to trespass and thus he is liable. This is the general rule in the Law of Torts. But in certain situations a person can be held liable even if he has not committed any wrong, if it is done by some other person with whom he shares a certain relation, such as master and servant or principal and agent and in these cases his liability is called vicarious liability.

The case of Anita Bhandari Vs. Union of India is related to the concept of vicarious liability between the relation of master and servant. In a master-servant relationship, the master employs the services of the servant and he works on the command of master and thus a special relation exists between the two and in case of a tort committed by the servant, his master is also held liable. There are many cases in which the servant does an act for his master and thus in law, it is deemed that the master was doing that act himself, therefore if the servant commits an unlawful act the master will also be held liable for the same.

Facts of the Case:

In this case, Sureshbhai Bhandari, the deceased came on his scooter and parked it near Dena Bank, situated at Reshamwala Market, Surat. At that time, Nagjibhai, who was the security guard of the bank on duty requested him to park his scooter on the other side as it was causing obstruction in carrying the cash box. Thereupon, Sureshbhai got angry and abused Nagjibhai by his father saying does this place belong to your father? Nagjibhai told him not to abuse him as he is a security guard of the Bank. Heated exchange of words took place between them, after which Sureshbhai told the security guard Nagjibhai to come along with him to see the Manager of the bank. There was hot exchange of words between them and when Sureshbhai was going inside the bank through gate at that time Nagjibhai followed him with the gun and on going inside the bank he shot at the deceased as he erroneously perceived the act of the deceased as a threat to the cash box which was being carried inside the bank at the same time and he died.

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The FIR was lodged by Mahendrabhai Haribhai Kothawala. He was an auto-rickshaw driver, aged 50 years. He stated in his FIR lodged before the police that Dena Bank is situated near Patidar Bhavan and its employees often come in his rickshaw. He took them to the bank for either depositing or withdrawing cash from the branch of Dena Bank, situated at Reshamwala Market, Surat. He was knowing Nagjibhai, the security guard of the bank, since last many years. Mahendrabhai Haribhai Kothawala, the auto rickshaw driver heard a loud sound. He went inside the bank and saw Sureshbhai lying on the floor with a bleeding right shoulder and Nagjibhai standing with his gun by his side. He lodged his FIR before the police about the incident which took place due to parking of scooter.

Issues of the Case:

  • Whether the act of the security guard i.e. Nagjibhai under the course of his employment?
  • Whether the bank can be held vicariously liable for this act done by its servant?

Contentions:

The counsel for the Anita Bhandari or the petitioners contended that:

  • The deceased i.e. the husband of Anita Bhandari and the father of the other two petitioners was a chartered accountant practicing at Surat and his income from profession was shown as ₹2,21,610/- and hence was at a prestigious position earning a decent amount of money.

The counsel for the Respondent-Bank contended that:

  • The counsel also said that in any view of the matter the bank would not be held vicariously liable for the tort committed by the security guard.
  • The reason they gave for the above contention was that the bank had not authorized or instructed the security guard to shoot at a customer or to use the weapon recklessly and hence the security guard was not acting within his course of employment when the incident took place.

Judgement:

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The court held that the act of the security guard of shooting at the deceased even without the deceased making any attempt even to touch the cash box or the vehicle carrying the cash box would have to be prima facie held to be rash and reckless.

In regard to the contentions made by the counsel for the Bank saying that the security guard was not acting within his course of employment and thus the bank should not be held liable vicariously for the act of its servant, the court said that it is not possible to describe the act of the security guard as an independent act as the unlawful act committed by him was so connected with the authorized act of protecting the cash box and ensuring its safely being brought into the bank and the unlawful acct was done as a part of the mode of performing the authorized act. The court said that the fact that if the employer were present on the spot they would not have authorized the act does not mean that the act was not done in the course of employment.

The court said that, once the Bank employed Nagjibhai Kanjibhai Parmar as a security guard and entrusted him with a gun, the Bank necessarily left it to him to determine, according to the circumstances that arise, when the gun is to be used and trusted him for the manner in which it is done and consequently the Bank is answerable for the wrong of the security guard not only in the wrong manner of using the gun but also in using the gun under the circumstance in which it ought not to have been done.

The bank held that at the most it was a circumstance under which the security guard ought not to have shot at the customer, but it cannot be said that it was done from any caprice of the security guard. The act in question, was therefore, in the course of employment of the security guard with the Respondent-Bank and hence the bank was held to be vicariously liable for the act of its servant.

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