Is a hotel liable for an injury suffered by a guest owing to defective designing of its rooms? In a landmark judgment, a five star hotel in Goa has been asked by a consumer court to compensate its guest for an injury suffered owing to faulty designing of its room.
For his wedding in Goa in July 2005, Siddhartha Bhimrajka had booked several rooms in a prominent five star resort and spa in South Goa. One of the invitees was Vinay Rajpal, a 29-year-old businessman and his wife Ravina, reports Jehangir Gai in ‘The Times of India’. When the Rajpals were shown their room on the ground floor, they found the bathroom a little peculiar, but they did not say anything.
Two days later, on the day of the wedding, they attended a pool-side lunch. Though alcohol was served, they did not drink any. After returning to their room, Vinay went for a shower. The bathroom had three steps to go down to the bathing area, with a handle bar on the right. On the second step, Vinay slipped badly and fell on his face, resulting in severe fractures in his jaw.
Vinay was taken to the Apollo Victor Hospital, and then flown by a chartered Air Ambulance Service to Mumbai and admitted in Jaslok Hospital. He was operated upon the following day and discharged a week later. But his mouth was wired shut for a further three days and, he claims, he was unable to do his normal duties for one year.
Vinay sent a legal notice to the hotel for compensation, and followed up with reminders. The hotel’s insurers contested the claim and denied any negligence on the part of the hotel.
In September 2007, Vinay filed a consumer complaint before the Goa State Consumer Commission, claiming a compensation of Rs30 lakh. He claimed he had suffered a fall because the design of the bathroom was faulty and the hotel personnel had not maintained it properly.
The hotel pointed out that the same room had been in use since the year 2002, and dozens of guests had used it without any accidents. The Rajpal couple, they said, had used the bathroom without problems at least thrice prior to the accident. Though Vinay slipped and fell, his wife Ravina had not met with any accident, so the fall could not be blamed on the design of the bathroom; it was merely an accident.
After a detailed hearing, the commission, presided over by Justice Britto and Member Prabhudesai, on 25 January 2012, ordered the hotel to compensate Vinay. The judgment said that photographs revealed it was a sunken bathroom that could be used as a shower as well as a bathtub and, to reach it, three slanting steps had to be climbed down without proper support.
While the floor of the bathroom-cum-bathtub was made of unpolished natural stone, the steps were made of polished Egyptian marble, with a slant towards the bathroom for water to drain. It noted that the hand railing was short and did not offer support on the second and third steps. It was also inconveniently low, so a person of average height would have to bend to hold it.
As there was no support for descending the slanting polished marble steps, the judgment concluded, the bathroom design disregarded the safety of the guests, as even the slightest wetness on a polished marble floor can be extremely dangerous.
The commission awarded reimbursement of medical expenses, cost of the chartered air ambulance, notional loss of income at Rs3,750 per month for three months, and compensation for the pain and trauma of inserting titanium plate implants and requiring the jaw to be wired shut for 10 days; in all, a compensation of Rs 9,33,400 along with costs of Rs10,000 was awarded. This is a new milestone in the history of consumer rights.