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Hotels and parking trouble
Rosy Kumar |
July 03, 2004
It's a legal point the consumer courts have already ruled on. What happens if a car is stolen from a hotel or an airport parking lot? Is the hotel or the airport responsible? Or, can it hide behind the fine print and argue that the parking ticket has a disclaimer clause?
Now the courts have ruled on this issue once again.
Atul Virmani, who had come to Delhi from Dehradun in a brand new Maruti Gypsy went to Hyatt Regency on September 18, 1996 at 11.15 pm after paying Rs 900 as entry fee to the disco, which included the charges for the vehicle's safe parking. Virmani had just bought the Maruti Gypsy for Rs 286,395. He also had accessories worth Rs 50,000 in the vehicle.
At the hotel, a valet took the keys of the car from him. Virmani returned from the disco at 1.40 am and handed over the docket to the hotel attendant who had the keys of the vehicle. After half an hour, Virmani was informed that his car was missing.
A police complaint was filed and Virmani demanded that the hotel management make good the loss.
The hotel authorities declined, stating that the parking facilities were provided by the hotel merely as a convenience to visitors. They argued that no legal duty devolved upon the hotel to ensure the safe return of the vehicles parked in the parking area.
They further informed him that the docket handed to him had a disclaimer notice informing visitors that vehicles could be parked within the hotel premises at the owner's risk and that the hotel would not be liable for any loss or damage.
Virmani filed a complaint before the Delhi State Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission which, after hearing the parties, by its order dated January 24, 2004 in Atul Virmani vs Hotel Hyatt Regency said the hotel had been deficient because it had not ensured the safety of the car.
The state commission directed the hotel to pay Rs 200,000 as price of the vehicle with 10 per cent interest from the date of theft and also Rs 5,000 as cost for litigation.
The commission in its order observed that the mere fact of printing the disclaimer clause would not exonerate the hotel from its responsibility to ensure the safe custody of the car as the complainant was not specifically told about this condition.
A question which also arises is whether any compensation can be claimed for the loss of vehicles stolen from public parking areas? This question came up for consideration before the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission in the matter of Mahesh Enterprises vs Arun Kumar Gumber.
In this case, Arun Kumar Gumber had gone to Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi on August 5, 1993. He parked his car in the authorised parking area for which he was given a receipt after paying Rs 10.
On his return Gumber's car was missing. Gumber filed a complaint before the district consumer disputes redressal forum impleading the Indira Gandhi International Airport Authority and Mahesh Enterprises which managed the parking area claiming Rs 195,852 for the car and Rs 40,000 as compensation.
The district forum held both the Airport Authority and the licensee liable and directed them to pay Rs 195,872 for the car and Rs 5,000 as compensation.
The Airport Authority filed an appeal before the state commission which held only Mahesh Enterprises liable. The National Commission too, in revision, upheld the state commission's judgement.
While doing so, the National Commission also observed that the entrustment of the vehicles to the authorised persons managing the parking lots would constitute bailment and the person responsible for the management of the parking area was liable to make good the loss.
From the above, it is now a settled proposition of law that hotels which provide parking areas for visitors' cars and also authorised persons managing the parking lots as licensees of the municipal or airport authorities will be held responsible to make good the loss if vehicles parked in their areas are stolen and/or damaged irrespective of the disclaimer clause printed in the token or the receipt.