Take great care in hotel entrance area—or you’ll pay

Gavel on top of cash
Lawsuits from accidents that happen on hotel property can end up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Photo credit: alfexe / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Cars whiz, people don’t. Upshot—the hotel entrance area, which is populated with cars and people coming and going, is a location that is ripe for accidents. Vigilant management is required. Anything less can lead to lawsuits.

A bicycle-car collision occurred in the valet parking area of the Hotel St. Pierre in New Orleans. Plaintiff was cycling on Burgundy Street in the French Quarter. She encountered a car door that a valet had opened on a parked vehicle. She was thrown to the ground on impact and sustained numerous injuries to her spine, joints and dominant hand. She sued. The hotel had hired a valet company, Parking Management Services, to control the parking and hotel-access area. The hotel therefore escaped the lawsuit; the defendant was PMS.

At trial, evidence indicated negligence on the part of both the bicyclist and the valet. In such circumstances, the jury is directed to determine what percentage of liability should be attributed to each party. The bicycle rider was assigned 30 percent; the parking company, 70 percent. The jury valued plaintiff’s injuries at $150,000. Because plaintiff was 30 percent responsible, her recovery was reduced by that amount to $105,0000.

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The case was appealed on numerous grounds. First, plaintiff maintained she was not at all at fault. Courts recognize that the search for the precise ratio of fault is not an exact science. Noting that bicyclists have a duty to be watchful at all times, the court upheld the 30/70 allocation.

Defendant asserted that plaintiff’s injuries were not the result of the accident. Indeed, she had prior pain in the same places on her body where she claimed injuries from the collision. While pre-existing conditions are factors to consider, they do not bar a plaintiff from recovery where an accident exacerbates those injuries or causes more injuries. The jury concluded that some of plaintiff’s injuries were caused by the accident and some were not. This finding also was affirmed on appeal.

The jury awarded $100,000 for future medical expenses. Defendant objected. Such costs are recognized in law as inherently speculative. A plaintiff’s claim must be supported with medical testimony and estimations of probable cost. Appeals courts give great respect to juries’ decisions, and the court here declined to disturb the jury’s determination.

For pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life, plaintiff was awarded $35,000. She sought $550,000(!) Again noting the uncertain nature of these injuries, the court upheld the jury’s verdict.

The overriding lesson is this. Don’t neglect the need for care in the management of your hotel entrance. When developing procedures to minimize accidents, consider the needs of the area’s varied constituencies, including vehicular traffic, pedestrians, bicyclists, Segway users, joggers, etc.

Karen Morris is a lawyer, municipal judge and distinguished professor at Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y., where she teaches hospitality law. Contact her at [email protected].

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