Two recent cases address the issue of hotel liability when personnel assist police who have an issue with a guest. One or both fact patterns likely are reminiscent of events that have occurred at facilities where you have worked.
In one case, law enforcement was on the hunt for a suspect and received word that he was staying at the Quality Inn in Carbondale, Ill. The front-desk clerk, apparently working in conjunction with the officer, called the wanted guest to the front desk under the guise of having an issue with payment for the room. As the guest stood talking to the clerk, the officer, who was hidden nearby, quickly approached and arrested the guest.
The arrestee commenced several lawsuits, including one against the hotel and the clerk for violation of the constitutional right of privacy. With short shrift the court dismissed the case because the constitutional provision is only applicable to actions of government officials and not private individuals such as a hotel clerk, or private entities such as a hotel.
In the second case, a guest at the B Ocean Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was acting bizarrely. He told staff and guests that he owned the hotel (not true), and he repeatedly ordered foodservice and called the front desk to report whether the wait time was acceptable. He phoned his sister and told her he was vacationing with his grandmother, who had been dead for many years. The sister called police for a wellness check. Two officers arrived. Hotel staff led them to the room. As the police approached, they heard talking in a “garbled” manner, and a laugh like a “super-villain in a movie.”
The officers knocked and identified themselves but were denied entry. A guest in the adjacent room approached the police in the hallway and reported he heard screaming and glass breaking all day.
The officers asked hotel staff for entry. They tried but the door opened only a few inches because the safety latch was engaged. The officers saw broken glass and blood on the floor. The guest refused further requests for entry. At the officers’ request, the hotel staff used a “special tool” to break the safety latch.
Once inside the officers subdued the guest. He later sued the police and the hotel apparently for false arrest. The court determined the officer’s actions were justified based on exigent circumstances. With virtually no discussion, the court dismissed the case against the hotel.
The lesson: Hotels can come to the aid of police without concerns of liability when providing limited assistance in a lawful arrest or when checking on a guest in distress.
Karen Morris is a lawyer, municipal judge and Distinguished Professor at Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y., where she teaches hospitality law.