Will Pike, a 33-year-old British man paralysed in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, on Thursday won the right to have his case for damages against Tata-owned Taj hotel heard in the UK.
The Indian Hotels Company Limited, a Tata Group firm, had earlier argued that Pike's negligence claim should be heard in India. A UK high court had, however, admitted that taking the case through Indian courts could take around 20 years.
Pike was paralysed in November, 2008, when he fell nearly 50 feet, breaking his back, pelvis and leg and fracturing his left wrist and right elbow in a bid to escape Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists who stormed the hotel. Ten gunmen had taken a boat into Mumbai and attacked several places in the city over three days, killing 166 people and injuring around 300 others.
Leigh Day, Pike’s London-based lawyers, are bringing a civil claim for damages against the Indian Hotels Company Limited, alleging the owners of the hotel did little to provide security to guests, despite several warnings of an imminent terror strike.
The Indian Hotels Company Limited said in a statement on Thursday that the group was disappointed with the decision of the UK court. “The acceptance of jurisdiction by the English court was made without any detailed consideration of the merits of the claim; it was a purely procedural decision. This great Indian tragedy in which many staff and guests were killed or injured was not the fault of the hotel owners and management and the claim will continue to be vigorously defended. Many of our brave staff will give evidence at the trial,” the statement read.
The statement also mentioned that Pike had been the beneficiary of a trust set up by the Tata group to offer relief to those affected by the 2008 attacks.
During the hearing, Rohit Kapadia, appearing for the Taj hotel, challenged Pike’s claim that the case needed to be heard in the UK for a speedy outcome. He informed the judge that a case of this kind could be decided in Mumbai within four years or less.
However, Pike’s lawyer, Russell Levy from Leigh Day, maintained that the case should be heard in the UK, where Pike lives and where the Indian Hotels Company Limited has a substantial business presence.
In his ruling, the judge said, “…My estimation is that the time this case would take to reach the probable end in India is some 20 years... about 15 years in high court, plus five years on first appeal.”
“[Mr Pike] is a man who is not quite 34 years of age. A favourable decision in England would give him the money substantially to improve his standard of living and enable him to better come to terms with his disability when he is about 36 years of age. If the proceedings have to be brought in India then he would be something like 50 to 55 years of age before that occurs,” he added.
“This is a great relief for our client who is consigned to a wheelchair. The truth is that he would not be able to pursue his claim in India. Justice would have been denied, which is precisely what the Defendants were trying to achieve,” Pike’s lawyer said.
"As much as they dislike the prospect of having to do so, the Indian Hotels Company Limited will now have to defend this case in a court of law. The main issue will be whether or not their security and safety systems were adequate to protect guests and staff,” he added.
Pike, speaking after the judgment was handed down, said, "I'm very relieved about the judgment. For one thing, it means that justice will be allowed to take its course - if the trial were to take place in India, it simply wouldn't have happened. So now, regardless of the outcome, at least I'll know whether the hotel could have done more to ensure my safety, as well as everybody else’s in the building."
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