January 30, 2019
By Steven B. Barrett, Esq.
Take any hotel chain – Marriott, Sheraton, or Best Western. What do they do as a business? They market and advertise that you should stay with them while away from home. Their commercials show clean and inviting rooms with friendly and caring employees. They want your business, or in other words, they want your money. In return, they represent that you will be safe, attended to, and comfortable. Yet aren’t those qualities what we expect when we stay at a hotel? We may take valuable belongings on our trips and when we lock the door at night, we want to feel secure that we will sleep without intrusion or threat of harm. Even access to elevators and floors are limited by the room key. That most large hotel chains have security in each hotel demonstrates the very real potential for theft, injury and assault.
Now let’s take an example that a hotel guest is assaulted on the floor where the guest’s room is located. Could the hotel be held liable for the injuries suffered by the guest? Possibly. Let’s further assume that for a week before the attack, security and hotel management were aware that one of the elevators was not working properly and allowed anyone access to all floors. Further assume that during that same week, two people who were not guests were found on different floors trying to open the doors of guest rooms and they were detained by hotel security with the police being called. With these circumstances, the hotel could very well be liable. If the hotel did not repair the elevator access system and did not increase security within the hotel and on the guest floors, a good case could be made that the hotel was negligent in failing to provide the victim with sufficient security or notice of the safety problems and criminal activity that was occurring. Common sense would concluded that the hotel did not act reasonably under these circumstances to protect their paying guests.
Here’s another example: a hotel employee grabs a woman and assaults her. Here we don’t have what we call a 3d party committing a crime – an outside criminal — but an employee of the hotel. In this situation, whether the hotel is liable again depends on the circumstances. If the hotel did its job in performing a thorough background check of the employee, and there was no other indication of such behavior, the hotel may argue that it had no notice that such a crime would or could be committed. However, if the hotel’s background check of the employee was deficient in not following up with references, checking criminal data bases, and/or failing to monitor the employee while working, then a case against the hotel may succeed if it turns out that the employee had a past violent criminal background or otherwise acted aggressively and inappropriately while working. In short, the question will be whether it was foreseeable that such an assault could have occurred by the employee.
Another area for business liability for criminal conduct involves businesses in “high crime” areas. Take for example a bar that is not only located in an area where crime is high, but numerous crimes, such as assault and battery, have occurred during the operation of the bar. Again, if a bar is open to the public for business, and the bar knows of the frequency of the crimes that take place on its property, the bar management must have security that increases the safety of patrons by reducing the possibility of future criminal conduct.
This might include increasing the number and visibility of bouncers, using metal detectors for all patrons to pass through to enter the bar, making sure there is good lighting throughout the bar, making sure the bartenders are certified in evaluating intoxication, and hiring special security professionals to review and make recommendations.
These are just some examples demonstrating how businesses can be held liable to guests and patrons who are injured due to crime. With the technology and specialization today, businesses are expected to have adequate security to protect their guests. Cutting corners or failing to incorporate these methods to maintain the safety standards is negligence.