Whose accountability- A class action suit?

The unfortunate accident of two de-suups this week could have been avoided to a large extent if public authorities performed their duty of ensuring public safety in the city. The accident was man-made for three reasons. The negligence of the driver, lack of safety measures and the open manhole.

This unfortunate accident caused enormous trauma to the nation and families of these two selfless volunteers. The accident deserves a thorough investigation to understand the cause of the accident in detail. However, our media only covered a brief account of the accident and failed to question the accountability of public authorities responsible for ensuring the safety of public beside the driver. 

 Kuensel report hinted that one of the victims possibly also hit the manhole after being hit by the vehicle. There are hundreds of such manholes and open potholes around the city, mostly open and without any cautionary notice.  The past formal and informal records show that, not only human but also animal lost lives due to such manholes. Yet the responsible public authorities remain free from any accountability. Public also told Kuensel that though it was an accident-prone area, there were no traffic signals, zebra crossing or even speed breakers. If there is any negligence on the part of relevant authorities, appropriate actions must be taken against them.

 Generally, whenever people are unhappy with the actions of public authorities, they only knock the doors executive not realizing the existence of a legal right to remedy their grievances. Section 149 of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (CCPC) provides the citizens with the right to initiate a class action against the erring public authorities. This right is a collective “lawsuit in which a single person or small group of individuals represent the interests of a larger group before the court” and enables “to file a claim and pursue litigation on behalf of a larger group, class or entities with common rights and grievances.”

Thus, the class action is a powerful collective legal right to sue the powerful public authorities or business tycoons to hold them accountable for their failures by legal means. To initiate class-action suits under Section 149, the “general outlines of a group are recognizable at the outset of the litigation, there exist common questions of law or fact among all of the class members and the representatives are members of the class and are capable of representing the interests of the absent class members.”

 The class-action suit originated from the English Courts in 17th Century, where a law allowed one representative of a group to bring or defend an action on behalf of the entire group.”  The purpose of the class action is to restore injuries and remedy the injustice caused to individuals who lacked the “resources, or experience to sue individually.”

For example, the tobacco industry in the United States lost $205 billion in punitive damages to Florida Smokers who became sick or died because of addiction to cigarette smoking.  Currently, a multi-million class action is filed against the “government” in Australia due to shut down and failures in hotel quarantines. Until we initiate similar actions in Bhutan and impose adequate punitive damages on our public authorities, our public authorities are not going to perform their duties properly. While Bhutan should  discourage promotion of  demerits  class action in creating a litigious society,  it is necessary tool to reform lapses in some public authorities.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.

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