If you’re on the road, the last thing you want is to become the victim of a crime when you’re staying in a hotel. In most cases, if a guest of hotel is a victim of a crime while on hotel property, the hotel is not considered responsible. Most states have laws that limit or prevent the hotel’s liability for acts of circumstances that are outside of the hotel’s control.
However, under the right circumstances, it is possible that the hotel could be at least partly responsible for crimes, especially if the hotel has not taken the proper measures to protect their guests.
Some of the most common hotel crimes include theft and assault/battery. But there are common hotel crimes done against guests, like stealing their belongings or attacking guests and there are common hotel crimes that guests can commit against the hotel (like stealing from the hotel). This article will mainly focus on crimes committed against guests.
The person who commits the crime is the most obvious person to shoulder responsibility. However, depending on the circumstances surrounding the crime, a hotel owner can be held at least partially responsible for crimes that occur on the premises. Part of that liability depends on the status of the victim. That status generally falls into two legal categories:
- Invitee: An invitee is a person who comes onto another’s property or business establishment upon invitation (and the invitation is implied when a place of business is open to the public).
- Invitees have certain rights while on the property, like the expectation of safe condition on the premises.
- An invitee is owed the highest standard of care, and the hotel owner is responsible for ensuring that the property is kept safe for guests, taking all reasonable precautions.
- Licensee: A licensee has the privilege of coming onto the premises by virtue of consent. They are like an invitee, but slightly different, because a licensee entering the hotel is entering the premises for a non-commercial purpose.
- For example, if you are a social guest of someone who is staying at the hotel, you may be a licensee. The hotel owner’s duty to licensees is slightly different; there is a duty to warn the licensee of any dangerous conditions that are known to the hotel, but not known to the licensee.
In order to recover damages against the hotel, there are certain things that you, as the victim, must establish in your case. For example, you must establish:
- The hotel owner knew or should have known of the dangerous condition, and that the victim would not discover the dangerous condition;
- The hotel owner did not make the condition safe or warn the licensee of the condition; and
- The licensee did not know of the dangerous condition or the risks involved
Basically, if the hotel knows about a condition on the premises that can cause harm to guests, they have a duty to the guests to make the condition safe and to warn guests about the potentially dangerous condition. If the hotel does not do that, they may have some responsibility if you are injured or a victim of a crime on hotel property.
There are certain things that hotels can do, both to avoid liability and keep guests safe. The baseline is that hotels need to provide adequate measures to protect the safety of their guests. If this baseline doesn’t happen, then the hotel may be considered to have been negligent. “Inadequate measures” in terms of safety can involve several things, including
- Failure To Anticipate Crimes: If the hotel is aware of particular circumstances that may result in crime — for example, if the hotel is located in or near a high crime area — or knows of similar crimes that have occurred on hotel property, the hotel is responsible for taking measures to help protect guests. This may include installation of security cameras or hiring security guards stationed on the premises;
- Failure To Warn: Even if the hotel does not install a security camera, at the very least they should warn guests if the hotel is located in or near a high crime area. There is at the very least a duty to warn guests that they may possibly find themselves in danger;
- Failure To Maintain The Premises: This one seems like common sense — the hotel has a responsibility to make sure that the hotel is kept in good condition. Sometimes criminals may take advantage of things like faulty locks or windows in order to gain access to a room. The hotel has a duty to make sure that these things and other items are properly maintained and repaired; and
- Inadequate Lighting: If there is not sufficient lighting in parking lots or hallways, the hotel may be putting guests at risk. Dark hallways may result in accident or injury, and dimly lit parking lots may invite the possibility of crime or injury as well.
Sometimes, to avoid liability, hotels exempt themselves and limit liability for any lost or stolen property that may be kept in hotel rooms. For example, there may be notices posted inside your hotel room that state that the hotel is not responsible for anything inside the room and they are not responsible for any valuables or property worth over a certain amount.
While the hotel may be attempting to limit their liability, you may still have an action against an individual staff member if that staff member is responsible for your stolen property. Talking to a qualified personal injury attorney may help you figure out who may be ultimately responsible for your situation.
Proving negligence requires the plaintiff to show certain evidence. If you have been the victim or a crime or injured on hotel property, you must be able to show that the hotel is responsible for the injuries you suffered on the premises.
As part of your evidence, you must be able to show:
- You were an invitee and on the hotel property as a paying guest;
- The hotel owed a standard duty of reasonable care to its guests;
- The hotel breached their duty of reasonable care by acting negligently; and
- The breach of that duty caused the plaintiff’s injury
In many criminal cases, the hotel must have taken reasonable steps to make sure that all areas of the property are secure and safe. If there has been a history of criminal activity in the area, the hotel is responsible for making sure that the area that was previously unsafe is now safe for future guests.
Generally speaking, automobile crimes (including theft and vandalism) are in a category of their own, separate from other crimes that may occur on hotel property. As a rule, the hotel must use reasonable care to protect guest vehicles from damage or loss. The hotel may not be responsible for any damage or loss that occurs as long as they exercise that reasonable care.
For example, providing adequate lighting or posting warning signs in the parking lot may be enough for the hotel to show that they exercised reasonable care to keep the area safe and warn guests to keep their valuable secured.
If you are the victim of a crime that has occurred on hotel property, the first thing you should do is contact the police and report the crime, and then notify the hotel staff. Next, it is in your best interests to consult a personal injury attorney, especially if you believe that the hotel was responsible for your situation.
An experienced attorney can talk to you about your situation and assess whether the hotel you were staying at was negligent. Your attorney can pinpoint whether the hotel violated its legal duties to you as a guest, and help you navigate the legal system if you decide to seek damages against the hotel.