Valuables lost? Role of hotels under a cloud

Pushpa Girimaji

Recently, while on a business trip, I lost my watch as well as my wallet containing Rs 10,000 besides two credit cards and my driving licence. As I was going for a swim, I had to leave these things in my room. All hotels have a locker for safekeeping of valuables, but I found no such facility in my room. On enquiry, the hotel manager said I could safely leave them in my room. With no other option, I put them in my suitcase and locked it, but when I came back, I found my watch and the wallet missing. The hotel is not paying me any compensation for my loss. What do I do?

Well, the hotel has to make good the loss suffered by you because, first of all, they did not provide a locker in the room for safe keeping of valuables. This was a deficiency on the part of the hotel and they are liable for the consequences.

Secondly, the manager assured you that your valuables would be safe in the room. That was a false assurance, an unfair trade practice.

Write them a formal letter, asking them to pay the cost of your watch and Rs 10,000 in cash lost by you. Send a copy of your watch receipt, if you have one, to prove its value. Or else, you can give the name of the brand and the model. Keep a copy of the First Information Report lodged with the police and also the report of the police investigation into the theft. It will be invaluable in your case. If it is found that the hotel staff is involved, it will strengthen your case further.

As you will have to file the case in the city where the hotel is located or where its owners are residing or have an office or a branch office, it might be difficult for you to fight the case in a consumer court there. So I would suggest that you lodge your complaint with the union ministry of consumer affairs and seek their help. If you log on to nationalconsumerhelpline.in, you will get various options on registering your complaint.

Can you quote any recent consumer court decision on a similar issue?

In Board of Directors, Pramod Hotels, Vs Rajshri Rao (FA NO 884 of 2015, order dated April 13, 2018), the complainant had booked some hotel rooms in connection with the marriage of her sister’s daughter in May 2013. Even though the hotel said it took no responsibility for the valuables kept in the room and that it should be kept in the locker with the cashier, there was no locker facility, forcing her to keep some jewellery as well as cash in the room. However, when she returned to the room after the marriage reception, she found all the valuables missing.

In her complaint before the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, she said that there was no locker facility in the hotel and this was a deficiency. Also, the CCTV footage checked by the police showed the involvement of the hotel staff. So, the hotel was also vicariously liable for the act of its staff. 

The hotel, on the other hand, argued that the complainant had kept the valuables in the room against such advice. And she had not produced any proof of valuation of jewellery such as receipts. While in the police complaint, she valued them at Rs 10 lakh, in her complaint before the Commission, she had raised it to Rs 15 lakh. 

The State Commission directed the hotel to pay Rs 10 lakh towards loss of jewellery and Rs 20,000 towards loss of cash. However, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission said that though there was deficiency on the part of the hotel in not providing a locker, there was also contributory negligence on the part of the consumer in keeping the valuables in the room, against such advice. Besides there was no way of quantifying the cost of the jewellery lost and no report of the police investigation was placed in support of the valuation or involvement of the staff. So, it reduced the compensation to Rs 2 lakh. 

Your case is slightly different in that the hotel assured you about the safety of the valuables in the room. Besides, you could not have worn the watch while swimming, nor could have you carried your wallet along. So, the hotel has to take full responsibility for not providing a locker and compensate you.

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