Hotel Liability Laws

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 When is a Hotel Liable to its Guests?

Hotels can be held liable when guests are injured or have their personal property stolen. The common law “innkeeper’s duty” states that innkeepers (hotel owners) are responsible for injuries to, and theft from, their guests.

Another name for this type of liability is “premises liability,” which states that owners of land and buildings can be held liable for injuries to or theft from their guests. Unsafe conditions on the property may cause injuries to guests. Theft may be perpetrated by other hotel guests or by employees of the hotel. Hotels can also be held liable for the actions of their employees.

When a hotel guest brings a claim against a hotel, it is usually for negligence, which means the hotel failed to do something they were responsible for in ensuring the safety of the guests and their belongings.

How Do I Prove that a Hotel was Negligent?

The civil wrong of negligence has four major parts that must be shown to recover for injuries or losses. Those parts are Duty, Breach, Causation, and Damages.

  1. Duty – To establish a negligence claim, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant owed them a duty of “reasonable care.” “Reasonable care” is the care an ordinary and prudent person would use in the same situation
  2. Breach – The plaintiff must show that the defendant breached the duty of care, either by doing something or not doing something
  3. Causation – The plaintiff will have to show a link between the defendant’s actions and the injury or loss to the plaintiff. In other words, the defendant’s behavior must have caused the problem that the plaintiff suffered
  4. Damages – There is no claim for damages unless the plaintiff suffered some kind of loss that can be compensated for by money. The type of injury can vary, from property damage to emotional stress to lost wages.

Even if those four parts are shown, and negligence is established, a defense might still reduce how much the defendant must pay.

That is a general description of negligence. As applied to a hotel’s duties to guests, the following specific description holds:

  1. Duty – The guest must have been a paying customer of the hotel at the time (this is what causes the hotel to have a duty to them).
  2. Breach – The duty of care was breached because the hotel did something, or did not do something, that it was supposed to have done to keep the guest and their property safe. There was a dangerous, unsafe, or defective condition on the owner’s property
  3. Causation – In breaching the duty of care, the hotel directly caused the problem suffered by the guest
  4. Damages – The hotel guest suffered an injury or had something stolen and is entitled to an award of monetary damages for their losses

What are the Duties Owed by a Hotel?

A hotel’s duty to its guests is to meet the industry standards of reasonable care for guests. This is a broad definition. Over time, case law has narrowed the list of activities a guest can expect the hotel to do. What follows is a list of common duties hotels are responsible for to ensure the safety of their guests.

At a minimum, hotels must:

  1. Keep the hotel and hotel grounds in a safe condition for guests
  2. Stay aware of any unsafe conditions, make repairs swiftly, and inform guests of any possibly unsafe conditions until repairs can be made
  3. Make sure there is security, as needed
  4. Hire enough staff and train and oversee them properly
  5. Take prompt care of any health and sanitation issues
  6. Make sure all locks on guest room doors function properly

What are Some Common Examples of When a Hotel Is Liable to its Guests?

A hotel can be responsible for injuries to or theft from its guests in myriad ways. Here are some of the most common claims of negligence guests make against hotels:

  • Personal injury – if a guest is injured during their stay on hotel property, they may bring a claim against the hotel
  • A guest who has items stolen from their room may make a claim
  • A guest may sue a hotel because another hotel guest committed a crime against them
  • Insect infestations (bed bugs)
  • Stairs or elevators need care

What Damages Are Allowed in a Lawsuit against a Hotel?

If the hotel owner or operator is found to be negligent because they breached their duty of care to prevent an accident, injury, or crime from occurring on their property, the plaintiff may be awarded damages. These damages could include:

  • An award for pain and suffering
  • Future and present medical bills
  • Lost income or loss of earning capacity
  • Punitive damages. Punitive damages can be very high. The reason is that their purpose is to punish the defendant, and the court will consider the defendant’s monetary value.

The property owner may also be ordered to repair or fix the dangerous condition that led to the injury.

Are There Any Defenses to a Claim for Negligence Against a Hotel?

There are some legal defenses available to the hotel. The most important defense will be proving that they were not negligent. That requires them to show that the plaintiff did not satisfactorily show the four key elements of a negligence claim: Duty, Breach of Duty, Causation, and Damages.

Other common defenses include:

  • Assumption of Risk: This defense can arise when the plaintiff is aware of the risk and disregards the risk, which causes them to assume the risk of being injured. The plaintiff cannot recover any damages if they knowingly and voluntarily assumed a risk of harm in connection with the negligence of the defendant
  • Contributory or Comparative Negligence: The plaintiff contributed to their own injury. Some states follow the doctrine of “contributory negligence,” whereby the plaintiff is completely barred from recovery if they were responsible for any part of what happened to them.
    • Other states follow “comparative negligence,” where the trier of fact (the judge or the jury) determines the percentage of liability attributable to each party. In a comparative negligence state, the plaintiff is not wholly barred from recovering if they were also negligent or in some way contributed to their injury. Instead, the damages awarded to them will be reduced by the percentage of responsibility that the judge or jury assigned them.

Can a Hotel be Held Liable for the Actions of its Employees?

Yes. If an employee causes injury to a guest or steals items from a guest, the hotel may be held liable. This does not require that the hotel had any advanced knowledge which led to the incident. In a case like this, the guest would just need to prove that the hotel was not careful enough about whom they hired or about the supervision of employees.

Under the theory of vicarious liability, the hotel is responsible for its employees’ actions as long as they complete the action within the “scope of their employment,” meaning in the course of their job duties.

Do I Need a Lawyer for My Hotel Liability Problem?

If you have been injured or have had items stolen during a hotel stay, you may have a claim against the hotel. You might want to contact a personal injury attorney to discuss your rights and the possible compensation for any loss you have suffered.

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