There was a recent Colorado Supreme Court opinion regarding a hotel’s duty of care to its guests and I thought this an interesting topic to delve into deeper. You probably think that a hotel, as a business, only has a duty to render you excellent customer service. Whether they exceed in that always depends, and it’s not like you have the right to legal action merely because a desk clerk was rude to you. However, legally, there exists a special relationship between an innkeeper and guest.
Westin Operator, LLC v. Groh
In the recent case Westin Operator, LLC v. Groh, the Colorado Supreme Court specifically looked at the issue of whether a hotel owes a duty of care to a guest during a lawful eviction. In Westin, the plaintiff, Jillian Groh, was a guest at a Westin in Denver when she and some friends got too boisterous at the hotel after a night of drinking. Hotel security asked those who were not registered guests to leave the premises, and Groh didn’t want to stay if her friends had to leave. For purposes of this case, it’s important that at least one person told the security guard that the group was drunk, and they couldn’t drive. The guards then escorted Groh and the remaining friends outside, effectively evicting them from the hotel. Groh then got into her car while one of her friends drove. The friend whose BAC was over the legal limit crashed the car into another vehicle where Groh sustained traumatic brain injuries.
The Court here looked to previous case law which cited Section 314A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, which focuses on an innkeeper’s duty to its guests. It states that an innkeeper “is under” the following duty to its guests: “(a) to protect them against unreasonable risk of physical harm, and (b) to give them first aid after it knows or has reason to know that they are ill or injured, and to care for them until they can be cared for by others.” Beyond that reasoning, the Court needed to see whether the hotel owed a duty to act to avoid the injury, analyzing with the following factors:
- The risk involved in the defendant’s conduct;
- The foreseeability and likelihood an injury weighed against the social utility of the defendant’s conduct;
- The magnitude of the burden of guarding against the injury; and
- The consequences of placing that burden on the defendant.
See HealthONE v. Rodriguez ex rel. Rodriguez, 50 P.3d 879, 888; Smith v. City & Cnty. of Denver, 726 P.2d 1125, 1127. According to the Court, the “risk of drunk driving and injury here was high.” They concluded that Westin had a duty to exercise reasonable care when evicting Groh given the risk of harm involved in the hotel’s conduct, the foreseeability and likelihood of injury to Groh given her intoxication, and low-cost options available to the hotel to facilitate a safe eviction, added to the fact that there is a special relationship between innkeepers and their guests. Therefore, the case holds that a hotel must “refrain from evicting an intoxicated guest into a foreseeably dangerous environment.”
I think this case is very interesting, and highlights an even greater duty that a hotel has to its guests than thought previously. It’s important that when taking someone onto your premises and providing them shelter for the night that you ensure their safety. The fact that a hotel must ensure when evicting a guest that they extend a duty of reasonable care is illuminating.
For more information about Premises Liability cases check out our page. Also you may be interested in our previous blog, Is a Bar Responsible when a Drunk Driver Crashes into Another Car?