Est bottler told to pay B2.4m to half-blind student

The Bangkok Civil Court ruled on Friday Sermsuk Plc, the bottler of Est soft drinks, are to pay 2.4 million baht plus interest to a student who lost his eye when an Est bottle exploded three years ago. (Bangkok Post file photo)

The Civil Court has ordered the soft-drink bottler Sermsuk Plc to pay 2.4 million baht plus three years’ interest to a student who lost his eye when a bottle exploded in his hands.

The case should serve as a wakeup call for consumers who are encouraged to take legal action to protect their rights, said Thanakrit Voratanatchakul, a prosecutor with the Attorney General’s Office.

The plaintiff was Teerakiat Charoenbunditsakul, a political science student who was also working as a waiter at a diner in Muang district of Khon Kaen three years ago.

On May 19, 2014, while Mr Teerakiat was bringing a bottle of Est cola to a customer, it exploded and glass fragments struck his face. In addition to facial wounds, Mr Teerakit lost his right eye after doctors diagnosed the lens had been torn.

Mr Teerakiat later sued Sermsuk, demanding 10.9 million baht in compensation under the 2008 Act on Liability for Unsafe Products.

The court in Bangkok on Friday said the evidence, including closed-circuit camera footage, clearly showed Mr Teerakiat was holding the bottle in an ordinary manner, as any sensible person would have done, when the incident happened.

As well, it said, a subsequent 30-minute random test on two other bottles was not enough proof that every bottle was safe.

It ordered Sermsuk to pay Mr Teerakiat 2.4 million baht plus 7.5% interest per year from the date of the incident. The total would amount to 2.98 million baht if the ruling were enforced today.

Mr Thanakrit said after the ruling on Friday that the court had used strict liability as the criterion for its decision. “In essence, an operator will have to take responsibility even though it had no intention to cause damage, nor was it reckless,” he said.

“The law puts the burden of proof on operators, who will have to prove their products are not unsafe.”

Businesses may not be held accountable only when the damaged party is aware that a product is unsafe, or the damage is caused by inappropriate use or storage, he added. “In this case, the operator could not prove that its soft drinks were safe.”

The consumer protection procedures law also allows the court to ban the sale of the remaining unsafe products or order products recalled until flaws have been addressed.

However, the court did not exercise this power in this case.

“The case is interesting. Even though the law and the consumer protection procedures law have been in effect for almost 10 years, very few cases involving large business operators and consumers reach the court,” said Mr Thanakrit.

“It sets an example so people can feel more confident about fighting large companies to protect their rights.”

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