Legally Speaking: Slip-and-fall cases result in wins for hotels

Double your pleasure, double your fun. Two cases this time; in both the inn won.

The Power of the Sign

I dub the first case The Power of the Sign. The facts are simple and the outcome you will applaud. Plaintiff, a guest at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans, slipped on an unidentified substance on the marble floor in the lobby. She suffered injuries and sued. The surveillance video of the accident showed a hotel employee dry mopping the area and then placing four “wet floor” signs where he had mopped, minutes before plaintiff’s fall.

The court determined the display of the caution signs constituted reasonable care, the standard a hotel must meet to avoid liability. The court therefore dismissed the case in the hotel’s favor without the necessity of a trial. An interesting twist—the signs were not the usual bright yellow or orange caution notices. Instead, the base was made of wood and the face of the sign contained a brass plate. The top half contained the words “CAUTION WET FLOOR,” and the bottom half sported the Spanish equivalent. In the center was a pictogram of a falling figure surrounded by a triangle containing the words “CAUTION CUIDADO ATTENTION.” The court found this cautionary alert sufficient.

Truth Be Told

My moniker for the second case is Truth Be Told. Plaintiff was a guest at the Orlando Omni hotel. She slipped and fell on water near the elevators. She claimed to have suffered debilitating injuries and sued the hotel for compensation. During the discovery phase of the lawsuit, when each side must disclose to the other relevant information about the case, the hotel learned plaintiff was involved in a car accident several months following her fall at the inn.

During plaintiff’s deposition in the lawsuit against Omni, plaintiff twice swore under oath she did not seek treatment for injuries following the car accident. Instead, she claimed her deteriorating medical condition was caused entirely by her fall at the hotel. But the proof of the pudding is indeed in the taste. Medical records disclosed during discovery established that she received medical attention at the car accident scene and was taken directly to the hospital. Thereafter she attended numerous medical appointments about which the attending physician wrote, “The circumstances of this patient’s injuries include blunt trauma sustained in a motor vehicle collision resulting in multiple serious bodily injuries…”

The judge in the case against Omni described plaintiff’s dishonesty as “egregious” and a “fraud upon the court.” On that ground alone, and without regard to any merit that might have existed in plaintiff’s case against the hotel, the judge dismissed plaintiff’s lawsuit with prejudice (meaning plaintiff cannot commence another lawsuit against Omni for her fall).

The lessons from these cases are clear. Surveillance cameras and caution signs are among a hotel manager’s best friends. Truth matters. And caution should always be on the menu to help limit spills on which slips and falls can occur.

Karen Morris is a lawyer, municipal judge and Distinguished Professor at Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y., where she teaches hospitality law.