With stories in the news about celebrities being robbed or unknowingly captured on video in their hotel rooms, you may wonder – What is the duty of a hotel to protect its guests from theft or harm?
While generally a person has no legal duty to protect another from the criminal acts of a third person, an innkeeper is required to exercise a high degree of care in order to protect his guests against the tortious acts of third persons. Hotels invite the public to enter their premises; therefore, hotels are required to exercise a reasonable degree of care to ensure the safety and privacy of their guests. If a hotel fails to do so, they are at risk of being held liable for injuries sustained by their guests.
So, a hotel or other “innkeeper” is under a duty to protect its guests against unreasonable risk of harm, including criminal acts. Also, the greater the likelihood a crime may be committed against a hotel guest, the more extensive safety measures the hotel will be expected to take.
Criminal Assault and Robbery
One example of a hotel’s responsibility for criminal assault and robbery on a guest was in 1991 where two couples were guests at a downtown hotel and occupied adjacent rooms. While the men watched television in one of the rooms, the ladies went to the other room next door to retrieve drinks from an ice chest. A handbag was placed between the door and the door frame of the room the men were in so the ladies could easily reenter the room. While the ladies were absent, a man armed with a gun entered through the propped-open door, threatened the two men, tied them up, taped their legs and mouths, and robbed them. When the ladies attempted to return to the room, they discovered that the door was locked. One of the ladies knocked on the door, and the robber opened the door, pulled her in and threw her across the room. After the robber left, the other woman called hotel security. Security personnel arrived approximately 15 minutes later and the police arrived shortly thereafter.
The four guests sued the hotel for the loss of money and valuables, medical expenses and pain and suffering. The guests claimed the hotel was liable for their damages because the hotel failed to provide adequate security measures. The guests won their suit and the hotel had to pay the statutory maximum amount that a hotel is liable for stolen property, past medical expenses incurred as a result of the burglary, and a combined $50,000 for the mental pain and suffering of the two men and the woman that was pulled into the room.
Invasion of Privacy
Hotels are particularly at risk due to the actions of stalkers or “peeping Toms” that attempt to spy on others possibly in an attempt to capture private moments on video and release them through social media or sell them to third parties.
In March of 2016, a jury awarded Erin Andrews, a Fox Sports and former ESPN reporter, $55 million in damages after videos of her changing in her hotel room were released over the internet. The offender, Michael Barret, called an Ohio hotel, which allegedly confirmed that Ms. Andrews would be staying at their hotel on specific dates. Barret made a request for a room next to Ms. Andrews’ room, which was allegedly accommodated without the knowledge or consent of Ms. Andrews. Barrett checked into his room and through holes he created in the room walls, took video footage of Andrews changing while in her room and distributed it over the internet for millions to view. Later the same year, Barrett called a Nashville hotel from the hotel restaurant and asked to be connected to Andrews’ room. When the hotel complied, he was able to see her room number displayed on the phone, and after ascertaining that there was an empty room next to hers, he went to the front desk and was able to book it. Once again, he recorded video footage of her changing, which also went viral over the internet. Andrews filed suit against the various hotel chains as well as against Barrett. The case went to trial and the jury found Barrett to be 51% responsible and the hotel companies liable for the rest of the $55 million verdict.
Loss of Life
In January of 1973, a 23 year old former Black Panther, Mark Essex, entered a Howard Johnson in downtown New Orleans, where he terrorized the city for more than 10 hours. In his rampage, he killed seven people. Among the victims was a newlywed couple from Virginia. The couple’s family filed suit against Howard Johnson International, Inc. alleging that the hotel’s negligence allowed the tragedy to occur. Senior partner at Herman, Herman & Katz, Mr. Russ Herman, represented the couple’s family and won the case by proving that the tragedy that occurred was a foreseeable risk based on the fact that there had been murders, rapes and break-ins in, not just at the New Orleans hotel, but at hotels throughout the chain.
In addition to the aforementioned risks of injury, hotels have a duty to protect their guests from many other unreasonable risks including but not limited to personal injuries, sexual assault, and perhaps, wrongful acts committed by employees of the hotel.
Contact an Experienced New Orleans Attorney Today
If you have sustained injury at a hotel or other establishment and you are considering filing a suit for damages, contact an experienced lawyer first. The attorneys at Herman, Herman & Katz, LLC can advise you of your legal rights and work closely with you to develop a strategy for your claim. Our clients benefit from our years of combined experience, and so can you. Schedule a consultation now at 844-943-7626 or fill out our online contact form with your questions.