Hotel Security — Are We Safe in Hotels?

Hotel Security and Safe Premises — And What to do When They Aren’t

Whether traveling for business or pleasure, the hotels, motels, inns, and B&Bs where we stay are our homes away from home. And just like when we’re at our real homes, we want to feel — and actually be — safe and secure when we’re at these temporary residences. The types of safety and security we expect in hotels are in the same categories as when we’re at home but happen in an environment where we are encompassed by strangers and unfamiliar surroundings.

Categories of Hotel Security and Safety

Broadly speaking, there are two main categories of hotel security/safety — and two main types of personal injury claims and litigation when safety breakdowns lead to injury:

  • Safe physical premises. The physical structure, layout, features, devices, appliances, etc., of the hotel environment should be ones in which we can safely live and move about. Just as with our homes and apartments, stairways and elevators need to be safe and functional, pool areas need to be appropriately secured for young children and have up-to-date and maintained equipment, rooms should be observant of the proper building and safety codes, fire equipment should be functional and regularly inspected, etc. If anything, hotels should take greater note of safe mobility within and use of their premises, since guests are typically encountering these premises for their first and only time — every physical situation they encounter there will be a new one for them. Injuries resulting from problems in these categories will typically be of the premises liability variety common to any home or public building where an unsafe physical condition leads to accidental injury.
  • Security from crime. Being away from their regular home environment, people are naturally more vulnerable to crime when staying at hotels. Everyone surrounding them — other guests, hotel staff, non-guest visitors and vendors — are all unknown factors over whom we as guests have little control but over whom the hotel operator may have much more significant control. Crime may come unplanned in the form of unruly, intoxicated guests who become physically abusive, or it may come in the planned forms of theft or sexual assault by intentional criminals. When injuries result from these types of criminal incidents, personal injury claims and lawsuits against hotel proprietors and staff are more likely to be based on legal theories of inadequate security or the improper screening and hiring of staff and contractors. A past survey found that 24% of frequent business travelers reported having been the victims of a crime on hotel premises, nearly half of them within the past two years. While thefts were far and away the most common hotel crime, 2% reported having been directly assaulted, and 9% reported knowing someone who had been assaulted.  Nor were these events only occurring in “budget” hotels — 69% of the crimes were in “major chain hotels,” and 40% were reported as occurring in “luxury hotels.”

Processes and Procedures for Hotel Security and Safety

Whether an injury claim or lawsuit against a hotel is based upon unsafe premises or upon security issues, investigation of the claim and proof of liability will often focus upon the hotel’s documented processes and procedures — and whether they were properly followed:

  • If an injury occurred due to malfunctioning pool equipment, then what were the hotel’s procedures for inspecting and maintaining that equipment, and what documentary proof is there that the procedures were or weren’t followed?
  • If a guest is injured or intentionally assaulted by a staff member, then what were the hotels processes for screening, hiring, reviewing, and disciplining or terminating staff, and what shows those processes were properly used?
  • If a guest is injured by another guest or visitor on the premises who becomes intoxicated or violent, then what are the hotel’s documented procedures for dealing with problem visitors, and were they followed? Were site security officers (if any) notified, and did they respond properly? Were the police called in a timely manner? Was a recurring problem adequately addressed in both safety planning and when the problem actually appeared?

Awareness is Key, Both for Guests and Staff

Most hotels come with safety features that we as guests can and should employ — use the locking features on our room doors, use room safes for storing valuables, be aware of fire evacuation routes and the location of fire safety equipment, read and follow the rules for pool and spa safety, etc.

Much of the safety responsibility, however, is largely outside of the guest’s control but within the hotel’s control to one degree or another. Regularly inspecting and maintaining safe physical premises is an obvious responsibility of the proprietor, and this includes daily (or more frequent) checks of common areas for spills, debris, or broken appurtenances that might lead to a slip-and-fall injury. This also includes a constant awareness of who is on the premises, whether or not they should be, and how they are behaving and acting.

This responsibility also stretches to the areas around the hotel. Are there ongoing problems with muggings or assaults in the neighborhood that may require additional security personnel, fencing and other physical access restrictions, video monitoring, etc., for guests accessing the hotel entrances or parking areas?

And finally, have the hotel staff been properly informed, trained, and supervised in carrying out these safety duties? A security guard who hasn’t been trained in how to use video monitoring equipment or who keeps falling asleep while watching the monitors isn’t of much benefit to guests. Nor is a grounds maintenance technician who has been vaguely told to “check the pool area twice per day” but hasn’t been given detailed instruction as to what may be a problem that actually needs attention in the pool area or equipment.

View this video from a popular television show describing easy-to-implement safety tips for hotel stays:

Sacramento Premises Liability Lawyer

Hello, my name’s Ed Smith, and I am a premises liability lawyer in Sacramento.  When we’re staying at our “homes away from home” in a hotel, spa, or resort, we have a reasonable expectation that the premises are safe and that we will be protected from reasonably anticipated crime.  When the hotel proprietors and staff fall down on this job, the consequences can be devastating in terms of serious physical injury or criminal assault.  If you or member of your family was seriously injured as a result of inadequate hotel security or unsafe premises, please contact us at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly advice. You can also reach us through our online contact form.

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