Under most circumstances, if a guest or other patron is a victim of a crime on hotel property, the hotel is not liable for their injuries. In fact, most states have laws that prevent a hotel from being held liable for acts that are outside of the hotel's control. However, it is possible that a hotel is partially responsible for criminal acts due to inadequate measures taken to protect guests.
Who Can Be Liable for a Crime that Occurred at a Hotel?
A hotel owner can be held liable for a crime that occurred on their premises depending on the status level of the victim:
- Invitee: An invitee is a guest that is owed the highest standard of care. The hotel owner must ensure that the premises is safe for the guest and take all reasonable steps to ensure that the premises is safe.
- Licensee: Any individual who enters the hotel for a non- commercial purpose. The most common example is a social guest of someone staying at the hotel. In order to recover as a licensee, a victim must establish:
- The hotel owner knew or should have known of the dangerous condition, and should have known that it created an unreasonable risk of harm, and likewise should have known that the victim would not discover the dangerous condition
- The hotel owner did not make the condition safe or failed to warn the licensee of the condition
- The licensee did not know of the dangerous condition or the risks involved.
What Kind of Measures Can Hotels Take to Avoid Liability?
As a general rule, a hotel needs to provide adequate measures to protect the safety of their guests. If a hotel fails to do so, they may be considered to have acted negligently. "Inadequate measures" may include:
- Failure to anticipate crimes: If the hotel should have been aware that it is in or near a high crime area, or knows of similar crimes that have occured on their property, then the hotel needs to take adequate steps to protect their guests. For example, installation of cameras or hiring security guards.
- Failure to warn: At the very least, the hotel should provide their guests with a warning if it is located in or near a high crime area.
- Failure to properly maintain property: Sometimes criminals will break into rooms with faulty door locks or pry open easy access windows. Hotels are under a duty to ensure that these things and other items are properly maintained.
- Inadequate lighting in parking lots or hallways: By not having adequate lighting, a hotel may be exposing their guests or patrons to unnecessary risks.
Sometimes, to avoid liability, hotels exempt themselves and limit their liability for any loss or stolen property that is kept in the hotel rooms. There are usually notices that are placed declaring that the hotel is not liable for anything inside the room or they do not cover any valuables or property that is worth more than a certain amount.
How Can I Prove That the Hotel Was Negligent?
In order to prove that a hotel was negligent and be able to hold the hotel responsible for injuries that occurred while on the premises, the plaintiff must show:
- The plaintiff was an invitee and was on the premises as a paying guest
- The hotel owed a standard duty of reasonable care to the guests
- The hotel breached the duty of reasonable care owed to the guests by acting negligently
- The breach of the duty caused the plaintiff's injury
In criminal cases, the hotel must have taken reasonable care by making sure that all areas were secure and safe. If there has been a history of crimes or past occurrence of crime that the hotel is aware of, they must take steps to ensure that the area that was unsafe before is now safe for future guests.
What If a Vehicle Is Stolen on Hotel Property?
Automobile crimes, e.g., vandalism or theft, are often evaluated differently than other crimes that occur on hotel property. As a general rule, as long as a hotel exercises reasonable care to protect vehicles, the hotel will not be liable for any damages or loss from crimes. For example, providing adequate lighting or posting warning signs in the parking lot may be enough to show reasonable care.
Should I Seek Legal Advice?
The first thing a victim of a crime on hotel property should do to do is contact the police and report the crime, and then notify the hotel. Next, it would be wise to consult a personal injury attorney to assess if the hotel you were staying at was negligent. A lawyer will be able to determine if the hotel has violated any of its legal duties and is under and obligation to compensate you for loss of property or injury.