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Hotel Liability and Special Relationships

File:Hotel Del Coronado 2004.jpg

Hotel Liability and Special Relationships

I’m Ed Smith, a Personal Injury Lawyer in Sacramento. Many personal injury cases deal in large part with the concept of negligence. Generally, when a person knows- or should know- about a dangerous condition but fails to take reasonable steps to protect others from harm, that person may be liable for injuries sustained as a result of their inaction. In some circumstances, an individual may be obligated to act even if they are not responsible for causing the dangerous situation. When a person uses a hotel or its facilities, the hotel’s proprietors enter into this type of unique relationship and are obligated to protect patrons from hazards.

Duty to Protect

If a party has created a perilous condition, they must protect others from potential harm. This duty to protect also exists when parties have entered into a “special relationship,” wherein one party has control over another’s welfare and is thus responsible for protecting them. This duty includes protecting the person from foreseeable harm and coming to the aid of that person if there is ongoing harm or another medical emergency. When a person lawfully enters a hotels premises, the hotel assumes the duty to protect that person from harm.

Special Relationships

If a party is vulnerable and dependent on another, and that other party exercises some control over their welfare, there is a very strong case for the existence of a special relationship. Some of the most common types of special relationships include:

  • Parents to their children
  • Common Carriers like city buses to their passengers
  • Schools to minor students
  • Hotels to their guests

Even if the special relationship is not statutorily defined, cases, where a person is charged with the duty bringing them into a relationship with another governed by the social policy requiring either action or precaution be taken to avoid harm, will often be found to be valid. For example, a special relationship was found to exist between a mortuary and a widower whose deceased wife’s body was assaulted by an intruder in the funeral home.

Hotels and their Guests

Hotel proprietors owe a duty to patrons defined as a special relationship. The hotel is expected to anticipate hazards, both in regards to maintaining their building but also dangers that might arise out of their guests’ characteristics- for example, an intoxicated guest, immature children, or a disabled person.

A hotel’s staff is much better equipped to discover hazardous conditions than a guest who will only reside there temporarily. The hotel is also better equipped to remedy any defects that pose a risk to guest’s safety than the guests, who are dependent and vulnerable. A guest at a hotel is likely in an inferior position to identify hazards or conduct a meaningful inspection.

Hotels, Inns, and Rentals

Although there is a fair amount of overlap regarding the duties owed by hotel managers, innkeepers, and landlords, there is an important distinction in the rules. All of these parties have a responsibility to “preform ‘reasonably careful’ inspections at ‘reasonable intervals’ to discover any dangers not apparent to the eye,” but where a landlord might relinquish control of the unit to their tenants (and therefore some responsibilities), hoteliers and innkeepers always retain direct and continued control of the guest’s rooms. Thus, a hotel’s rooms might be compared to the common areas in an apartment building, for which the property owner bears responsibility. If a landlord relies on good fortune to protect their tenants, they must be prepared to accept the liability when their luck runs out.

Duties of Hotel & Property Managers

Hotel guests do not have an opportunity to inspects their rooms for defects and rely on the hotel to assign them safe lodgings. There is rarely any expectation that a guest must inspect their room for hazardous conditions, nor would a hotel’s management rely solely on guest’s reports to identify dangerous conditions. It would be absurd to imagine that the average guest would even be qualified to conduct such an inspection. Generally, it falls to the hotel to perform careful and regular inspections of the property to ensure guest’s safety. The hotel has a duty to “know what is knowable,” and to protect guest and potential guests from hazards both preemptively and responsively.

Related Article by Sacramento Personal Injury Lawyer, Ed Smith:

Sacramento Personal Injury Lawyer

I’m Ed Smith, a Personal Injury Lawyer in Sacramento. If you or someone you love was hurt while vulnerable and dependent on another party like a hotel to protect your welfare, I can help. Please contact me right away at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for compassionate, free and friendly advice.

I have served the Sacramento and Northern California community since 1982. You can see some of my valued client’s reviews on Avvo, Yelp and Google Plus.

My work as an injury lawyer has earned me the recognition of the Million Dollar Forum. This group honors attorneys who have won or settled cases with proceeds in excess of $1 Million.

Summaries of some of my past Verdicts and Settlements can be found posted on my website.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Hotel Del Coronado by Bignoisybird. CC BY-SA 3.0
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