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British man wins right to sue Tata Group’s Taj hotel in UK

Taj Mahal Hotel

A 33-year-old British man paralysed during the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks today won his claim to sue the Tata Group
Taj Mahal HotelLondon: A 33-year-old British man paralysed during the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks today won his claim to sue the Tata Group, the owners of the iconic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, in a British court.

The Indian Hotels Company Limited, a Tata Group firm, had argued that Will Pike’s negligence claim should be heard in India but a High Court judge here accepted that taking his case through the Indian courts could run into years of delay.

“In summary, my estimation is that the time this case would take to reach the probable end stage in India is some 20 years…I am persuaded that it is clearly the case that England is the appropriate forum for the trial of this action,” Justice Stewart said in his ruling at the Royal Courts of Justice.

The Indian Hotels Company, however, have been given the right to appeal against the ruling and the case will now go to the Court of Appeal for a final decision.

“The appeal process is just a small delay. I’m very relieved about the judgement. It feels like a step in the right direction,” said Pike, a London-based freelance filmmaker.

“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,” he added.

Pike was seriously injured when he jumped out of a window of the hotel after it was stormed by some of the 10 Lashkar-e-Taiba militants who carried out the attacks in Mumbai in November 2008. The attacks killed 166 people and left hundreds injured.

Leigh Day, the law firm behind his civil claim for damages against the Indian Hotels Company, alleged that the owners of the hotel did little to provide security for residents despite several warnings that an attack on the hotel was imminent.

The firm believes today’s verdict, which follows a three-day hearing between December 2 and 4, will have dramatic implications for others injured abroad.

“Today’s judgement most definitely means there is a case to answer. As much as they dislike the prospect of having to do so, the Indian Hotels Company 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,” said Russell Levy, a partner at Leigh Day.

“This judgement is of importance to all victims of accidents abroad. It will also be of great interest to Indian victims of the attacks who are effectively prevented from pursuing claims in India because of the inadequacies of their current civil justice system,” he added.

His firm had argued that the case must be heard in London, where the Tata Group’s hospitality arm has a significant presence including the Crowne Plaza St James Hotel near Buckingham Palace in central London.

The Indian Hotels Company Limited’s legal team, led by Paula Jefferson – partner at London-based Dac Beachcroft law firm, had challenged the assertion that Pike’s case should be heard by the High Court in London, where he lives.

Pike and his then girlfriend, Kelly Doyle – who is also bringing proceedings through the same law firm – claim they saw limited security checks with only one metal detector and cursory screening of guests.

They allege that they had not been given proper advice about emergency procedures and evacuation routes and, when they heard doors being kicked in and shots fired, had to break a window with furniture from their smoke-filled room and try to reach the ground using bedding and curtains knotted together.

Pike, who is wheelchair-bound since, was paralysed in the attack as a result of falling nearly 50 feet and breaking his back, pelvis and leg and fracturing both his left wrist and right elbow in a bid to escape the Islamic extremists as they went through the hotel shooting residents and setting off explosions.

Pike’s legal team points to a ‘CNN Asia’ interview in which the then chairman of the Tata Group, Ratan Tata, confirmed that the hotel had been warned of an attack and that security measures previously in place had been relaxed during the time the attack took place.

“If proceedings are commenced in India then the delay which I have found would result cannot possibly be said to be proper access to justice. This factor alone I regard as sufficient.

However, it is given extra force by my finding that the claimants will not even get that far because of their inability to litigate in India through lack of funding. In short, the reality is that their claims would come to a juddering halt,” concluded Justice Stewart in his ruling.


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