Hotels can be held liable for injuries to guests, and can be also held responsible for negligent acts of hotel employees. In this article, we'll look at both scenarios, and walk you through the elements that are necessary in order to bring a successful personal injury claim or lawsuit against a hotel.
Proving That a Hotel Was Negligent
In order to hold a hotel legally responsible for injuries that occurred on the premises, you'll need to establish that the hotel was somehow negligent. That means showing that the hotel breached a duty owed to a person who was injured on the premises, and that the breach of duty caused the injury. Let's look at each of these elements separately.
Hotel Duties to Guests
A hotel has a general duty to exercise reasonable care in operating its business and protecting guests. A hotel guest, considered an "invitee" under premises liability law, is legally entitled to a high amount of protection.
A hotel must inspect the hotel grounds and maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition. This duty includes quickly repairing dangerous conditions and taking affirmative steps to protect guests from known or reasonably discoverable conditions. For example, there is a duty to quickly clean up a spilled pitcher of water and a duty to post signs when a pipe located in a hallway is known to leak. In both situations, the hotel could be liable if a guest slipped on the water from the pitcher or the water from the pipe.
Common hotel duties include a duty to maintain adequate lighting, a duty to keep steps dry and unobstructed, and a duty to repair hotel defects. Other general hotel duties and responsibilities to guests include:
- Control insect infestation ("bed bugs")
- Maintain proper security (security guards and cameras) to avoid theft and assaults on guests
- Exercise reasonable care in hiring hotel staff
- Train hotel pool staff to prevent injuries to guests
- Maintain stairs and elevators
- Maintain locks on hotel rooms.
There is also a duty to reasonably construct hotel steps or warn guests of unusual staircase locations. Hotel guests have won lawsuits in which a hotel has been found liable for negligent design and construction where the staircase was located in a long hallway, there was no warning or caution sign, and the guests' inability to exit the hotel resulted in injuries.
A hotel has minimal duties to non-guests and trespassers. Non-guests have a right to enter the hotel premises with the permission of guests, but non-guests may be evicted for engaging in prohibited activities.
Hotel's Breach of its Duties and Responsibilities
When a hotel does not inspect the premises, keep the premises reasonably safe, or fails to warn of dangerous conditions, it has breached its duty to guests. For example, when a hotel does not thoroughly clean its sheets, and bed bugs infect the bed, the hotel has breached its duty.
Hotel Must Cause the Guest's Injury
In all negligence cases, the defendant (the party being sued) must cause the plaintiff’s (party suing) injury. It must be reasonably foreseeable to the defendant that his or her actions could cause injury to the plaintiff. As a real-world example, a hotel is not negligent when a hotel guest slips on another guest’s spilled soda in their individual hotel room. However, the hotel could be liable if the room has just been cleaned by the hotel staff and an obvious spill or other hazard was not remedied.
Injury or Harm to Guest
The final necessary element is harm. To succeed in a case against the hotel, the guest must experience an injury or some other loss. So, in a slip and fall case involving an obvious safety hazard, the guest must have been injured by the fall. It's not enough to show that there was a hazard, and that a fall occurred.
Recovery of Damages
In legalese, "damages" is the amount of money awarded to a successful plaintiff as compensation for injuries. Depending on the type and severity of a hotel guest’s injury, recoverable damages might include medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of companionship.
Liability of Hotels for Employee Conduct
Under a legal theory known as "vicarious liability," a hotel may be liable for the harmful actions of employees. The hotel’s liability depends on whether the employee’s actions were performed “within the scope of employment.” A hotel may be liable for an employee’s actions even if the hotel did not sanction the conduct, was unaware of the incident, or did not have direct control or supervision over the employee at the time the incident occurred.