Klaus Mittelbachert v/s East India Hotels Limited
Suit Appeal No. 506 of 1975
Decided On, 03 January 1997
At, High Court of Delhi
By, THE HONOURABLE MR. JUSTICE R.C. LAHOTI
Facts of the case
- Klaus Mittelbachert, the plaintiff was a co-pilot in Lufthansa. He landed at Delhi and was scheduled to continue the flight to Frankfurt on 14th August, 1972. For the intervening time, elected in the air-line terminology as lay- over-period, he attested into and stayed at the Hotel Oberoi Intercontinental.
- Hotel Oberoi Intercontinental is owned by the defendants. One of the defendants was its Chairman and it was allegedly being managed by another defendant at the material time. The Hotel had a swimming pool installed with a diving board.
- In the afternoon of August 13, 1972 the plaintiff visited the swimming pool. At about 6.00 p.m. while driving the plaintiff met with an accident. He had hit his head on the bottom of the swimming pool. He was taken out bleeding from right ear and appearing to have paralyzed in the arms and the legs. He was taken to Holy Family Hospital where he remained under medical observation until August, 21, 1972 on which date he was taken to Germany under medical escort.
- On 24th March, 1973 he was discharged from the Clinic. Further treatment prolonged but the situation of the plaintiff did not improve. He was shifted back to his residence where his medications resumed.
- The present suit has been filed for recovery of an amount of Rs.50 lacs by way of damages with interest calculated @ 12% from the date of the filing of the suit until payment and costs.
- According to the plaintiff, the accident was caused by what in the circumstances amounted to a trap. The diving board placed at the swimming pool suggested a proper depth of water into which a swimmer could dive. The defendant hotel owed the plaintiff a duty to take care and make certain of his safety.
- The defendants have denied their liability. It is submitted that defendants No.2 and 4 have been unnecessarily joined as parties to the suit as none of them can be held liable or personally liable. The defendants admit that defendant No.1 is the owner of defendant No.3 and is solely responsible for the acts of defendant No.3.
- A material occurrence during the pendency of the suit and resulted in the death of plaintiff due to cardiac arrest.
(a) The first issue that is raised deals with deciding whether the defendants were in control of the premises of Hotel Inter- continental or not on the day of the incident.
(b) Another issue that was raised was that whether there was any failure on the part of the plaintiff to take reasonable care of himself in his own interest and who has the last opportunity of avoiding the accident. It was also debatable that whether the disabilities attributed and the death of the plaintiff was the direct result of the accident that took place or not.
Negligence is a failure to attend to someone like how a reasonably prudent person would implement in similar circumstances. It is an unintentional tort and has four rudiments-
- Duty of Care
- Breach of Duty
Negligence is the omission to perform something which a reasonable man in regard by those considerations which ordinarily guide the conduct of human affairs would do, or doing anything that such a man would not do. It is the unintentional failure to conform to the conduct of a reasonable Man.
Now we know that when a man fails to behave like a reasonable man with respect to a particular act/omission he is said to be negligent. It presupposes the idea of an obligation in all of us towards the society at large to behave in a certain manner.
Some cases of negligence are easy to prove for the very reckless conduct of a person – satisfies all the above requirements, for example: driving a car at 100 km/hr in a Lane then negligence is writ large on the face here. In these matters the claimant need not be subjected to the requirement of proving the negligence traditionally. Res Ipsa Loquitur comes to his aid.
Res ipsa loquitur translates to “the thing speaks for itself”. It is a rule of evidence that shifts the ones to disprove negligence on the person whose action has led to the damage. The very act of person converses volumes about his lack of diligence and resulting loss.
Application of Legal Principal
Breach of Duty is the failure to maintain the required standard of care. In order to determine whether there has been a Breach of Duty or not one has to check the following-
- The importance of the object to be attained
- The magnitude of the risk
- The amount of contemplation for which facilities are offered
Ordinary prudence Test
The plaintiff must prove that defendant acted/omitted to do something which a reasonable person of “ordinary prudence” would, or would not have done.
Case Example- Kerela State Electricity Board v. Suresh Kumar
In this case there was a minor boy came in contact with overhead electric wire which had sagged to 3 feet above the ground got electrocuted thereby and received burn injuries. The Electricity Board had a responsibility to keep the overhead wire 15 feet above the land. The Board was held responsible for the breach of its statutory duty.
In context with the Klaus Mittelbachert v. East India Hotels Ltd, the question of liability of a five star hotel arose to a visitor who got seriously injured when the he took a dive in the swimming pool. It was embarked that there is no difference between a five star hotel owner and an insurer as far as the security of the guests is concerned. It was also observed that a five star hotel charging high from its guests owes a high degree of care as regard quality and safety of its structure and services it offers and make available.
Decision of the Case
Co pilot of Lufthansa is wounded by a flaw in the pool of Hotel Oberio Intercontinental which was reserved by Lufthansa itself and not Klaus. Hence, there was no Privity of Contract among Klaus & the hotel. It was alleged by the Delhi High Court, that though the contract was among Lufthansa & the hotel, the beneficiaries are the staff who would stay, and therefore the contract was for their assistance. The defendant hotel owed the plaintiff a responsibility towards apt attention and security. Having failed therein the defendants are guilty of negligence and are, therefore, liable to compensate the plaintiff for the consequences flowing from the accident.
All these issues are inter-connected. They emerge out of the contending pleas raised by the plaintiff and the defendants as to whether the negligence was on the part of the defendants or on the part of the plaintiff or whether it was a case of contributory negligence as suggested by the defendants. According to the plaintiff the accident was in the circumstances amounted to a trap. There was implied insinuation by the hotel that there was proper depth of water. The hotel owed the plaintiff a duty to ensure his safety and having failed therein must be held to have been negligent.
Author: Gayatri Sharma,
GGSIPU, Jims School of Law, 2nd Year/ Student