Selecting a lawsuit to write about is akin to going on a safari. I go on the hunt for that special case that has great appeal for its instructive value. This month I found two beauties and so you get a double shot of things legal. The message from both cases is not new but seems to regularly trip up hospitality facilities: Always, always be alert to conditions at your hotel that can cause injury, and do what’s necessary to remove the danger.
In the first case, the plaintiff was enjoying dinner at a Ritz-Carlton in Jamaica when he experienced cardiac arrest. A waitress immediately called the hotel’s emergency hotline operator who in turn summoned an ambulance. While waiting for its arrival, hotel loss-prevention officers came with an oxygen tank and automatic external defibrillator. Turns out the tank was empty, and the defibrillator produced only a “faint like quiver” when applied. A nurse and doctor dining in the restaurant administered CPR until the ambulance arrived. The man was transported to a hospital where he died a few days later.
His wife and estate sued the hotel claiming negligence in the maintenance of the medical equipment. Liability for negligence requires that the hotel breach a legal duty owed to a guest. There is such a duty to maintain one’s premises in a reasonably safe condition. However, a hospitality facility is not required to provide emergency medical assistance. Instead, a facility discharges its duty to guests with medical emergencies by promptly seeking outside medical assistance. The Ritz-Carlton satisfied this duty and so the lawsuit was dismissed.
The court also immunized the hotel for another reason—the Good Samaritan Act. This law, adopted by many states, provides that a party who, in good faith, renders care to victims at the scene of an emergency is not liable for any civil damages if the rescuer causes injury.
In the second case, the law was not so forgiving. A child apparently ingested ant poison, a tube of which was left in a bedroom at a Wyndham resort condominium on the nightstands. Soon after drinking the pesticide, the child had trouble breathing, experienced stomach distress and developed a rash. The front desk was alerted and quickly called an ambulance. Luckily for all concerned, she suffered no long-term effects. Her family sued the hotel claiming negligence. The hotel, recognizing it was between a rock and a hard place, did not dispute that leaving tubes of pesticide in a room may violate the duty to provide a safe environment for guests. Instead the hotel argued that the girl did not suffer injury.
To establish a claim of negligence a plaintiff must prove that she suffered an injury or loss. While the injury here fortunately was contained, the court found that the girl’s symptoms, although short-lived, and the money she spent on medical care were sufficient to prevent dismissal of the case. Instead, the lawsuit will proceed to trial or settlement. The moral of these cases is worth repeating: Don’t ever let your guard down in the exercise of due care for the safety of your guests.
I want to thank Karen Morris for writing this story