Hotel liable to pay for death caused by fire | Business Standard Column

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A fire broke out on the night between August 3 and 4, 2012, at Hotel Lucky India

Jehangir B Gai

Mukesh Gangadhar Manglani, sales director at Riddhi Technology, Ahmedabad, stayed in Hotel Lucky India, run by S.K. Mineral Handling while on a business trip.

He checked in on August 3 and planned to check out on August 5, 2012. He was allotted room no. 301. A fire broke out on the night between August 3 and 4. Manglani and three other guests died due to burn injuries and asphyxia. They were taken to the community health centre in the morning where they were pronounced dead.

Sachindra Das, the doctor on duty, informed the police and a first information report (FIR) was registered at Barbil Police Station. The inquest conducted at CHC Government Hospital confirmed the cause of death to be burns and asphyxia.

Two years later, Manglani’s family filed a complaint before the National Commission claiming compensation from the hotel for his death.

The hotel did not dispute the facts, but stated in its defence that the hotel was in operation since 2007 after having obtained a licence from the municipal authorities. It pointed out that it had three floors consisting of six rooms and two exit points on each floor. The electricity supply was from Orissa North Eastern Electricity Supply Co. Periodical inspection was carried out by the electrical inspector and other staff of Orissa North Eastern Electricity Supply Co., and nothing adverse was ever reported. The hotel stated that it had one fire extinguisher on each floor, and it had also installed smoke detectors or fire sensors. It defended itself by stating that all the equipment and safety measures were in place and in proper working condition.

However, the fire officer had reported that the hotel did not have smoke detectors and its staff was unable to operate the fire extinguishers. The hotel disputed this observation.

It pointed out that when the fire occurred due to a short circuit, 19 staff members were on duty. They alerted the guests, all of whom responded, except four persons who were fast asleep. The fire brigade was informed and attempts were also made to control the fire with the help of fire extinguishers. The hotel claimed that a short circuit could not be anticipated and that there was no negligence on its part.

The hotel also raised a technical defence that the matter was complicated and would require oral evidence to be recorded, which was not possible in summary proceedings under the Consumer Protection Act.

The National Commission rejected the hotel’s plea that the matter was complicated. The defence that Manglani died because he did not respond to the fire alert was rejected, as guests are expected to be sound asleep at that hour.

Since the fire officer had reported that the hotel did not have smoke detectors and its staff did not know how to operate the fire extinguishers, the National Commission applied the maxim of “res ipsa loquitur”, and held that this fact was sufficient to hold the hotel guilty of negligence.

The Commission noted that Manglani earned Rs 27,000 per month. Since he was born in August 1976, after deducting 25 per cent towards personal expenses, a multiplier of 15 would have to be applied. It pegged the loss of income at Rs 54,67,500. It ordered the hotel to pay this amount as compensation along with Rs 15,000 as loss of estate, Rs 40,000 as loss of consortium, and Rs 15,000 as funeral expenses. The total compensation of Rs 55,37,000 was ordered to be paid along with 6 per cent interest from the date of death.

The writer is a consumer activist

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