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A Tale of Responsibility and Negligence in Hotel Hospitality: Jan And Sons v/s A.Cameron

The present case of Jan & Son v. A. Cameron [1]was filed as an appeal by the defendant hotel owner before the Allahabad HC to set aside the trial's court's order. This case was presented before Honourable J. Ryves and J. Gokul Prasad who unilaterally dismissed the appeal and held the defendant liable for the plaintiff's loss on the same grounds as decided by the trial court that the defendant was obligated to deliver the value of the stolen goods due to a part of his negligence in keeping the hotel premises safe.

This judgement also highlights the under-cover section of the Indian Contract Act, pertaining to bailment.

Facts of the case
The Plaintiff who was a commercial traveler went to Cawnpore in Sept 1918 and resided at the civil and military hotel owned by the defendant as a guest. The plaintiff claimed that during his stay at the hotel, his belongings worth Rs. 3000 were stolen while he was having dinner in another part of the building. The learned district judge of the trial court during the proceedings encountered a series of evidence through which he concludes as follows:
The hotel building is divided into two blocks wherein one block has some residential rooms accompanied by a public and dining room, whereas the other block has some more dwelling rooms and both the detached block of the dwelling room consisted of a Verandah. An open unfenced maidan was also discovered to be at the back of this block. It was also found that the bathroom attached to the plaintiff's room was unsafe and could easily be entered from the back.

The plaintiff's servant was in and around the room during the commissioning of the theft and the servant followed the thief unsuccessfully.

Issues before the Court:

  • Whether the defendant was liable for the plaintiff's loss?
  • Whether the plaintiff suffered the loss due to the fault of his own servant?
  • Whether the defendant had taken due care and was not negligent as to the security of the hotel premises?
  • Whether there has been an error by the trial court in applying a point of law?

The appeal was dismissed as a result of the observation made by the court that the defendant was negligent on his part in keeping due and proper of the belongings of his guest as a man of reasonable prudence would do so in the case of his own goods.

The court came to this conclusion by determining the evidence which pointed out the fact that there had been reports of two earlier thefts in the hotel within the same year for which had been brought to the notice of the manager concerning the unsafe conditions of the bathroom which had not been particularly denied by him.

This matter comes under the purview of the Indian Contract Act. Here, the possession of the plaintiff's goods and its security was undertaken by the hotel owner. So, the concept of Bailment comes into picture. Bailment has been explained under Section 148 of the ICA as "bailment" is the delivery of goods by one person to another for some purpose, upon a contract that they shall, when the purpose is accomplished, be returned or otherwise disposed of according to the directions of the person delivering them. The person delivering the goods is called the "bailor". The person to whom they are delivered is called, the "bailee".[2]

It can clearly be pointed out from the facts of the case that the plaintiff is the bailor and the defendant is the bailee and the bailee was under the obligation to protect the plaintiff's goods as it was put under his possession. This fixes the liability incurred on the defendant out of the contract of Bailment.

Also, Section 151 of the Indian Contract Act imposes an obligation on the bailee of the goods to maintain it in such a condition with due and proper care as a man would so to safeguard his property. Section 151 states that In all cases of bailment the bailee is bound to take as much care of the goods bailed to him as a man of ordinary prudence would, under similar circumstances, take of his goods of the same bulk, quality and value as the goods bailed.[3]

The High Court in its ruling also pointed out an error in the point of law used to derive its decision by the Trial court. The trial court in its order had based its ruling on the grounds of the common law system by stating that no Indian statute applied to the present case and hence by relying on the common law system of England, the plaintiff was not responsible for proving any negligence on the part of the defendant, it was then Prima facie held the Innkeeper as liable and the burden shifted to the defendant for proving otherwise.

The HC here objected to the trial court's justification and negated the applicability of the Common Law system in such cases in India. As the court stated, there lies a significant difference in the working and operation of the hotels in England and India. The court ultimately maintained that the matter now fell under the jurisdiction of the Indian Contract Act and hence the question that lies before the court is whether the defendant had taken proper care as has been mentioned under Sec 151 of the ICA.

Hence, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiff after examining the presented witnesses and checking the fulfillment of the essentials under Sec 151 ascertained the defendant's liability.

The Judgement has quite aptly digressed upon the issues before the court and provided its answer through the ruling.

The defendant was held liable for the plaintiff's loss and this loss was not a result by the fault of the plaintiff's servant. Additionally, the defendant lacked proper care needed to be maintained for the protection of the goods in possession and has been held liable for the violation of its duties guaranteed as a bailee under Sec 151 of the ICA. Also, the court has pointed out the error of law in the ruling of the trial court's order.

  1. Jan and Son v. A. Cameron, 1922 SCC All 197
  2. Indian Contract Act, 1872, 148
  3. Indian Contract Act, 1872, 151

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