Hotel liable for vehicle theft from parking: SC – Times of India

NEW DELHI: A hotel cannot take the cover of ‘owner’s risk’ clause on parking tokens to deny compensation to its guests for theft or damage to their vehicles once keys are handed over to the valet, the Supreme Court has ruled.
A bench of Justices M M Shantanagoudar and Ajay Rastogi upheld the order of National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission directing Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi to pay compensation of Rs 2.8 lakh to a person whose Maruti Zen car was stolen in 1998 from its parking area and held that there was negligence on the part of the hotel management.
It said when the hotel actively undertakes to park the vehicle for the owner, keep it in safe custody and return it upon presentation of a parking slip, it would be liable to return the vehicle in the condition in which it was given. The court said it is immaterial that parking is provided free of cost as these services are covered by the exorbitant rates charged for renting of rooms, food, entry fee to lounges and clubs and so on.
The court brushed aside the contention of Taj Hotel that it was not liable as parking tag given to the guest clearly stated that it would be at the guest’s ‘own risk’. “Where the hotel or its servants have actively connived against or acted negligently in safeguarding the vehicles delivered for valet parking, ‘owner’s risk’ clauses in the parking token will not come to their rescue,” the bench said.
“However, this does not mean that the hotel would be liable in all scenarios or that it cannot impose any exemption clause through a contract. There may be situations where the loss or damage may be caused due to the negligence of third parties, the guest’s own negligence or unforeseen circumstances beyond the bailee’s control, which could not have been foreseen with ordinary diligence. This would include, for example, acts of God, seizure of the vehicle under legal process or by public authorities, damage due to natural causes such as unforeseen weather conditions, presence of inherent defects in the vehicle, acts of loss or damage caused by the guest’s own negligence and so on,” it said


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