Eighteen years after a Mumbai hotel's faulty lift trapped a group of guests, including three foreigners, for over two hours, virtually suffocating them to death, the apex consumer court has directed the hotel to pay the six victims Rs.2 lakh each for mental agony and trauma.
The Ambassador Hotel, Churchgate, has been held guilty of negligence and deficiency in service by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission for poor maintenance of the lift in the hotel, which malfunctioned during the guests' stay in 1994.
Commission's Presiding Member R.C. Jain and Member S.K. Naik directed the hotel's controlling company Narangs International Hotel to pay Rs.2 lakh each to Radha Venuprasad, from New Delhi, Ram Venuprasad, from Chennai, Roy Short and Sylvia Clive Short, both from Britain, Sotiriadis Themistoklis, from Greece, and Sunil K. Sreedharan, from Calicut.
The commission, in a recent order, said: "Narangs International Hotel Pvt. Ltd. is directed to pay Rs.200,000 to each one of the six entrapped passengers along with Rs.10,000 as cost."
The hotel has time till Dec 23 to pay up. It can also exercise the legal option of moving the Supreme Court against the commission's judgment.
The complainants alleged that during their stay in the Ambassador Hotel Feb 28, 1994, while travelling in the lift from the lobby to the revolving restaurant on the 12th floor in the hotel they got stuck midway between the 11th and 12th floor for two and a half hours.
They contended that the episode clearly proved that the hotel authorities were not only negligent but ill−equipped and not capable of handling an emergency. They also said the 'Dos and Don'ts' stickers issued by the OTIS Elevators Co. India Ltd. were not displayed in the hotel.
The commission rejected the hotel's bid to wash its hands off the episode and blame the lift maintenance company OTIS for the incident. The company even filed a separate petition against OTIS but it was rejected.
Jain said: "OTIS Co. had been repeatedly advising the hotel to accept the estimates of repair and agree to shutdown of the lifts spreading over a period of three weeks" but the hotel in its commercial interest did not pay any heed to the request.
"We find no case of negligence on part of OTIS Co. We say so because the hotel being the main service provider ought to have acted promptly and ensured the repair/replacement of their own lifts," Jain said in his ruling, a copy of which is available with IANS.
"It appears that the hotel had developed an indifferent attitude and inertia appears to have set in so long as their business was going on, albeit not fully satisfying the service to their customers. Their complaint, therefore, has no merit," the commission said.
The complainants, who stayed in the hotel in connection with a wedding in the family of a common friend, said in their plea: "Attempts to rescue the entrapped lift passengers were not only belated but very crude."
"It took two and a half hours for us to be taken out of the cabin of the lift by physically pulling them out one after the other through a hole which was made by ripping open/cutting the iron grill at the top of the cabin," said the complaint.
"The process involved a constant hammering of the iron grills/parts resulting in the glass panels inside the lift breaking into pieces falling on those entrapped. The atmosphere was intensely claustrophobic and abhorrent," it said.
(Rahul Chhabra can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)