Lawsuit doesn’t always mean a hotel is at fault

A hat trick for hotels! In three recent cases of interest, the hotels prevailed. Let’s take a look.

The first involved a woman who fell on a wrinkled floor mat and broke her arm in the lobby of defendant Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. The hotel had laid the mat because of rain. The plaintiff argued that either the mat was crumpled as it was laid, or the rumple was present for a long enough time that the hotel should have discovered and corrected it. She had no evidence of either. Without proof, plaintiff loses. Case dismissed.

In the second lawsuit, a pregnant woman sadly was killed while sitting in a cabana at the Riverside Hotel swimming pool in Broward County, Fla. A speeding and heavily intoxicated driver missed a nearby curve in the road and drove into a wall of the cabana, which collapsed, killing the plaintiff’s wife. A jury determined that the hotel’s negligence was a partial cause of the incident. The hotel appealed. To reach the cabana, the car had to jump a 3-inch curb, cross a sidewalk, drive through a wall of bushes and avoid hitting both a utility pole and a palm tree. The cabana complied with all building and zoning codes; the cabana’s foundation columns were heavily fortified with solid concrete; the road was clearly marked and the curve was easily visible. Further, in the 49 years the road had existed, there had never been a car crash there. The court thus concluded the accident was not foreseeable, and even if it was, the hotel took necessary precautions. Verdict reversed; case dismissed.

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In the third case, the plaintiffs, hotel guests, befriended a desk clerk at a Residence Inn hotel in Des Moines, Iowa. After a night of drinking, the plaintiffs encountered the then off-duty clerk while walking back to the hotel, and willingly interacted with him. Unfortunately, the encounter ended in a violent assault by the clerk and a group he was with. Turns out the clerk had a criminal history that included two assault convictions not discovered by the hotel before hiring him. Plaintiffs sued the inn for negligent hiring. The court dismissed the case, noting that a hotel has no control over conduct of an off- duty and off-premises employee.

These cases remind us that a lawsuit does not necessarily mean the hotel will be liable. Here are the lessons: Do not overlook employee background checks or periodic inspections of the premises, promptly address dangerous conditions, and if sued, work with your lawyer to identify defenses that may be available.