Primer on hotel law: The common law – duty to protect guests from others

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Written by Linda Hohnholz

As noted in Travel Law 4.04, modern hotels and resorts are wedded to the past in terms of the law which defines the traveler’s rights and remedies [Sherry, The Law of Innkeepers, Cornell University

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As noted in Travel Law 4.04, modern hotels and resorts are wedded to the past in terms of the law which defines the traveler’s rights and remedies [Sherry, The Law of Innkeepers, Cornell University Press (1972)]. Last week continued our journey through the common law as applied to Innkeepers focusing in on the duties to render courteous treatment and provide safe accommodations. This week we end our journey focusing in on the Innkeeper’s duty to protect guests from others.

Travel Law Updates

Uber’s Surge Pricing

As noted in Brunelle & Rubinstein, Bill would ban ‘surge pricing’ by Uber, rideshare services, capitalnewyork.com (2/13/2015) “Uber would no longer be able to institute ‘surge ricing’ models if a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Felix Ortiz becomes law. The bill would prohibit the practice altogether and violators would be fined $250 for each such occurrence. Surge prices multiply base fares to convince drivers to take riders during periods of exceptionally high demand, according to Uber…Kristen Williams, a spokesman for Ortiz, said surge pricing ‘benefits drivers far more that it benefits riders’ and the ‘the consumer deserves some protection from this, by virtue of the fact that there are many compelling stories describing customers who did not know this pricing is in effect’…Uber spokesman Matt Wing (stated) ‘Users can opt to pay a higher price, use another transportation option or wait for prices to quickly return to normal through our in-app notification tools. Ultimately, dynamic pricing ensures New Yorkers will always have a ride and reliability of choice’, Wing said”). Stay Tuned.

Three More Uber Articles

In Alonso & Farley, Uber: Does New Ticket to Ride Carry Personal Risks?, New York Law Journal, March 4, 2015, p. 5 (excellent collection of data on Uber such as “The (Uber) application currently operates in cities within 46 countries… 139 of these cities are in North America. Between June 2013 and May 2014, 83,000 people used Uber. As of September 2014, Uber was available to 42 percent of the American population or 137,451,768 individuals with an average pick-up time of less than 10 minutes …New York City is more conservative in its acceptance of Uber, given the fact that only commercially licensed UberBLACK and UberTAXI drivers provide the ride-sharing service”.

In Todd, Uber Goes on Offensive Over 2014 Data Breach, therecorder.com (3/2/2015) it was noted that “After disclosing that some driver information has been compromised in a 2014 date breach, Uber… filed a lawsuit Friday aimed at tracking down those behind the cyberattack…The company estimates that the names and license numbers of 50,000 Uber drivers could be at risk”.

In Ruiz, Uber Unlikely to Dodge Discrimination Suit, www.the recorder.com (3/3/2015) it was noted that “A magistrate judge on Tuesday said he probably won’t throw out a suit that claims Uber drivers discriminate against blind passengers accompanied by seeing-eye dogs. Brought by the National Federation of the Blind of California, the suit asks from injunctive relief and an award of damages to some of the named plaintiffs…The complaint named several individuals who claimed they were stood up by Uber drivers after trying to get a ride with their service dogs. The suit alleges that one Uber driver went so far as to put a passenger’s dog in the vehicle’s trunk”.

The Duty To Protect Guests From Others

As a general rule, the hotel, although not considered an insurer, must protect the guest from the assaults of others. However, the hotel owes that duty to guests, not persons who come onto the premises for other purposes [See Keller v. Monteleon Hotel (2010) (cable technician injured by suicide jumper from hotel roof; summary judgment for hotel; no evidence of hotel’s knowledge of prior suicides presented or that suicide could have been prevented)]. More recently the liability of hotels and resorts to guests that have been raped or assaulted has increased [Shadday v. Omni Hotels Management Corp. (2007) (female conference attendee raped in elevator by attorney; ‘We can get a better sense of a hotel’s duty to protect its guests against crimes by observing that the hotel has much better access to information about the danger than its guests do…The information enables the hotel to take appropriate precautionary measures”)].

Crime In The Local Environment

Hotels must provide the quality of security procedures commensurate with the level of crime in the local environment [Allen v. Greenville Hotel Partners, Inc. (2005) (guests killed in hotel fire; “There is further evidence that [hotel was] on notice that criminal activity had been directed towards one of the hotel’s guests”)]. The greater the crime level in the area, the greater the standard of care owed to the guest [Shadday v. Omni Hotels Management Corp. (2007)]. Hotels must have notice of the incidence of criminal activity inside its premises [Del Lago Partners, Inc. v. Smith (2010) (fight in resort bar where “one patron assaulted another during a closing-time melee involving twenty to forty ‘very intoxicated’ customers. The brawl erupted after ninety minutes of recurrent threats, cursing and shoving by two rival groups of patrons”)]. In addition, hotels must respond to escalating noise levels, continuing threatening behavior by intoxicated patrons and the presence of guns [Corinaldi v. Columbia Courtyard, Inn. (2005) (invitee shot to death at party held by hotel guests)]. Further, hotels that provide security systems, such as back door exits, may be liable for breaches of security. And hotels have a duty to use reasonable care in the hiring, training and supervising of employees and concessionaires [Gorman v. Grand Casino of Louisiana, Inc. (1998)(casino patron claims security guard placed a ‘date rape’ drug in her drink and assaulted her)].

Protecting Guests From Others

Hotels should prevent unauthorized persons from having access to room keys [Pelosso v. Cedar Lodge LLC (2006) (night maintenance worker for Cedar Lodge gained access to hotel room and murdered occupants)]. Hotels should seek to remove mentally ill guests that harass other guests [State v. Charles K (2010) (hotel seeks court order for emergency involuntary admission of guest because was ‘barking at patrons who were entering and exiting’ the hotel; petition granted)]. Hotels are under a duty to reasonably protect guests from assaults by other guests [Sawyer v. Wight (20012) (guest assaulted by professional wrestler; “Attacks may be reasonably foreseeable when the hotel or inn where the attack occurred was plagued by ambient crime…However, attacks may not be reasonably foreseeable when the hotel provided adequate security or when the attack was directed specifically at the victim because of his remarks”)].

A hotel may be liable to a guest who is injured crossing a picket line in front of the hotel [Coyne v. Taber Partners (1995)]. However, at appears that there is no duty to comply with an armed robber’s demand for money to avoid increasing the risk of harm to restaurant patrons [Kentucky Fried Chicken of California, Inc. V. Superior Court (1997)(patron held hostage by armed robber sues restaurant claiming that management’s failure to comply with robber’s demand for money caused patron’s injuries)]. A hotel may have a duty to non-guests who are struck by objects thrown from the upper floors of the hotel [Connolly v. Nicollett Hotel (1959)]. Hotels have a duty to protect guests from other guests or employees spying on them [Cater v. Innisfree Hotel, Inc. (1995)] and to protect guests from negligent entertainers [Thomsalen v. Marriott Corp. (1994) (tour operator sponsors “Murder Mystery Weekend” during which a hotel guest is burned watching a fire eating act; hotel has duty to protect guests from negligence of entertainers)]. Hotels may not be liable for criminal conduct on adjacent sidewalks [McAndrews v. Pierre Hotel (1999) but may be liable for the bites given by dogs invited into the hotel premises [Maher v. Best Western Inn (1998) (guest sustains injuries separating attacking dogs; hotel which solicited guests with pets may be liable for creating risks and not taking precautions to protect guests)]. And hotels may also be liable for injuries caused by an intoxicated guest [Luc v. Madruga (2015)(guest consumed three “Kamikazes”-a mixed drink containing vodka-at The Roxy located inside the Tremont Boston Hotel and was subsequently involved in an automobile accident)].

Conclusion

The last three articles have touched upon common law cases in the United States involving the liability of hotels to injured guests. Hotel law varies, of course, depending upon the country in which the hotel is located and attorneys in such locales should be consulted as to applicable local legal principals [see e.g., John Downes Blog at iftta.org and Grant, Douglas & Sharpley, Hotel Law, A Concise Guide to the Law of Inns and Innkeepers, Preface (Northumbria Law Press 2007) (“In this book we have endeavored to state the law which regulates the relationship between the hotelkeeper and his guests as it is today”)].

The author, Justice Dickerson, been writing about Travel Law for 38 years including his annually-updated law books, Travel Law, Law Journal Press (2014), and Litigating International Torts in U.S. Courts, Thomson Reuters WestLaw (2014), and over 300 legal articles.

This article may not be reproduced without the permission of Thomas A. Dickerson.

WHAT TO TAKE AWAY FROM THIS ARTICLE:

  • Surge prices multiply base fares to convince drivers to take riders during periods of exceptionally high demand, according to Uber…Kristen Williams, a spokesman for Ortiz, said surge pricing ‘benefits drivers far more that it benefits riders' and the ‘the consumer deserves some protection from this, by virtue of the fact that there are many compelling stories describing customers who did not know this pricing is in effect'…Uber spokesman Matt Wing (stated) ‘Users can opt to pay a higher price, use another transportation option or wait for prices to quickly return to normal through our in-app notification tools.
  • Brought by the National Federation of the Blind of California, the suit asks from injunctive relief and an award of damages to some of the named plaintiffs…The complaint named several individuals who claimed they were stood up by Uber drivers after trying to get a ride with their service dogs.
  • As of September 2014, Uber was available to 42 percent of the American population or 137,451,768 individuals with an average pick-up time of less than 10 minutes …New York City is more conservative in its acceptance of Uber, given the fact that only commercially licensed UberBLACK and UberTAXI drivers provide the ride-sharing service”.

About the author

Linda Hohnholz

Editor in chief for eTurboNews based in the eTN HQ.

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