The Supreme Court has upheld an order asking the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation Ltd (KTDC) to pay Rs 62.5 lakh compensation to the family of a man who drowned in a swimming pool in a hotel run by it, stating that “a hotel which provides a swimming pool for its guests owes a duty of care” to them.
“Since the facility of a swimming pool was available for use by the guests of the hotel, there was a close and proximate relationship between the management involving the maintenance of safe conditions in the pool and guests of the hotel using the pool…The duty of care arises from the fact that unless the pool is properly maintained and supervised by trained personnel, it is likely to become a potential source of hazard and danger,” a bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta ruled, confirming the April 28, 2015 order of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.
The incident dates back to March 21, 2006 when Satyendra Pratap Singh who entered the pool of the Samudra Hotel in Kovalam with his brother between 6 and 6.30 pm, became unconscious, and sank in the water. The victim was pulled out and taken to hospital. He died at 9.30 pm on the same day.
Singh and family had checked into the hotel for one day.
Following the incident, his wife Deepti Singh lodged a consumer complaint accusing KTDC of deficiency of service. She alleged that on witnessing the incident, a foreigner who was in the vicinity in the pool lifted Singh out of the water.
However, KTDC contended that the lifeguard on duty had also jumped into the swimming pool.
The NCDRC held that there was a deficiency of service on the part of the management of the hotel, as the lifeguard on duty had also been assigned the task of being a bartender. It placed reliance on safety guidelines for water sports issued by the National Institute of Water Sports, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India.
The Commission held that assigning a lifeguard with an additional duty of attending to the bar was liable to distract his attention, and he may not be able to keep a close watch on the guests swimming in the pool. Moreover, while attending to his duties as a bartender, the employee would necessarily have to leave the pool, even for a short period of time, to attend to guests outside the pool, it had said.
Upholding this, the SC said, “Every guest who enters the pool may not have the same level of proficiency as a swimmer. The management of the hotel can reasonably foresee the consequence which may arise if the pool and its facilities are not properly maintained. The observance of safety requires good physical facilities but in addition, human supervision over those who use the pool. Allowing or designating a life guard to perform the duties of a Bartender is a clear deviation from the duty of care. Mixing drinks does not augur well in preserving the safety of swimmers.”
Writing for the bench, Justice Chandrachud pointed out that the safety norms for water sports prescribed by the National Institute of Water Sports in the Ministry of Tourism of the Government of India cast an obligation upon the person or entity which provides a swimming pool in a hotel to appoint a lifeguard for the pool. The lifeguard should not be given any other duties which would distract her from the work of a lifeguard.
The court also modified the order awarding compensation and allowed the complainants 9 per cent interest from the date of institution of the complaint.