Mind reading is not a necessary skill for success in the field of hotel management, but the job does require the ability to connect dots that suggest danger lurks.
Late one August 2014 night, plaintiff Henry Mu, a hotel guest, was assaulted in the lobby of the Omni Providence (R.I.) Hotel. He was punched and kicked by an unruly group, and then two members held plaintiff down while a third threw a table at him. He suffered a broken arm and sued the hotel’s management company. Had these been the only relevant facts, the case likely would have been dismissed because the attack would not have been foreseeable. A hotel owes its guests a duty to protect them from foreseeable calamities. If a freak accident happens, liability generally does not follow.
Unfortunately for Omni, additional relevant facts existed. The hotel’s front desk had received a call from a guest about 35 minutes before the attack on plaintiff. The caller complained of loud noises and the smell of marijuana from a nearby room. Security guards responded, discovered approximately 20 people inside, not including the registered guest. They were all escorted from the premises. The group soon came back to the hotel entrance area with a case of beer. A fight broke out among them “with punches thrown and much shouting.”
The group’s attention was soon diverted to an African American about to enter the hotel. Racial epithets issued from the rowdy cluster in an apparent attempt to pick a fight. The target tried to leave but the group attacked him. At that time, plaintiff was talking with the valet. Plaintiff directed the valet to seek help for the victim, but the car guy responded, “That’s not my problem.” The valet then left to park a vehicle. The group turned its attention to plaintiff, who feared for his safety and headed toward the hotel lobby. He alerted the concierge to call the police. The assault against plaintiff followed.
Per the court, these facts render the confrontation against plaintiff sufficiently foreseeable to create a legal duty requiring the hotel to protect plaintiff from harm. The foreseeability here is based on a sequence of events leading to the attack.
The lessons are clear: When guests are at risk, it’s every employee’s problem. Training should underscore this. Security officers must double check that people evicted do not return. Employing communication devices enables prompt sharing among employees of information about developing threats.
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]