The hotel is supposed to be an oasis of privacy, comfort, and security for travelers far from home. Most times, it is. However, as hotels add more amenities and serve more guests, it’s inevitable that risks increase, employees cut corners, and people get hurt. If you’ve been injured because of unsafe conditions on hotel property or the carelessness of an employee, you could be owed compensation. Here is what you need to know if you’re proving hotel liability in a personal injury case.
In this Article
- A Hotel’s Responsibility to Guests
- Common Ways that Hotels Breach Duty of Care
- When Hotel Liability Extends to Non-Customers
- Hotel Liability Does Not Always End at the Property Line
- When Hotels Are Not Liable for Injuries on their Property
- Proving Negligence in a Hotel Liability Case
- How to Prove Your Injury Claim
- What Can I Recover from a Hotel Injury Case?
A Hotel’s Responsibility to Guests
Hotels and resorts have a general duty to exercise reasonable care in maintaining safe premises for their guests.
Colorado premises liability law states that all lodging establishments that make it a business to invite paying guests to stay with them must take steps to protect them from safety hazards or other dangerous conditions they either know about or should know about. C.R.S 13-21-115
These steps include, but are not limited to:
- keep hotel rooms and public areas clean and in good repair
- maintain adequate lighting in guest access areas
- maintain all stairs and elevators
- reprogram room keys after guests check out
- contact appropriate emergency personnel when necessary
- have plans in place for emergencies, such as fire evacuation routes
- comply with all state and federal food safety standards
- comply with all state and federal anti-discrimination laws
- ensure that inclement weather poses no temporary hazards, such as icy or slippery walkways, to guests
- ensure adequate security to prevent theft and breaking and entering into hotel rooms
- hire enough staff to maintain necessary services and fulfill all duties
- respond to and fix all sanitation issues, including plumbing problems and insect infestations
Note: These standards apply not only to hotels and resorts, but also to roadside inns, hostels, bed-and-breakfasts, and home-share establishments, like Airbnb.
Common Ways that Hotels Breach Duty of Care
Anyone who is a customer of any lodging establishment is considered an “invitee” under Colorado premises liability law. This means once you reserve or pay for a room and check in, you are entitled to the highest standard of care under the law and may file a personal injury lawsuit if you are injured due to any negligence by the hotel.
Duty of care breaches can include, but are not limited to:
- wet walking surfaces
- broken stairs or defective handrails
- cracked tiles, torn carpeting, or uneven pavement
- inadequate security or failure to reset a former room keycard
- poorly lit common areas, such as lobbies or garages
- tainted water supply or food poisoning
- shuttle bus accidents
- accidents due to defective elevators or escalators
- preventable drowning or swimming pool and jacuzzi accidents
- defective products inside the hotel that cause injury
When Hotel Liability Extends to Non-Customers
While customers, designated as “invitees” under C.R.S 13-21-115, are afforded the highest duty of care, other individuals who happen to get injured on hotel property are also entitled to personal injury compensation under certain circumstances. These include:
Individuals who are considered other “invitees” are those who often find themselves conducting business on hotel property. These people can include delivery persons, hotel employees, construction workers and contractors, or individuals stopping by to service or shop at a restaurant, coffee stand, or gift shop on the property.
All of these invitees are entitled to the same duty of care as regular hotel guests.
A licensee is any individual intentionally on hotel property for social purposes unrelated to business. Licensees can include guests in customers’ rooms or individuals attending a social function on hotel grounds.
A hotel or lodging establishment has a duty to warn licensees of dangerous conditions on the property, but once they have been suitably warned, hotel liability is not an issue.
A hotel or lodging establishment must:
- assume the presence of licensees,
- repair any hazards that make the property unsafe, and
- warn licensees of hazards that are not plainly visible.
Under premises liability law, landowners owe no duty of care to trespassers except to not willfully or intentionally cause them harm. However, because most hotels are located in well-traveled, densely-populated areas, such as the heart of a city, they have a responsibility to anticipate trespassers.
An anticipated trespasser is any individual who happens to wander onto hotel property without being explicitly or implicitly invited. The main duty of care owed to trespassers is that hotels must put up clear warnings of hazards that are not visibly obvious.
For example, if there is construction work being done on hotel property that a trespasser could wander into, a sign must be put up warning of a work zone. If the hotel property includes any dangerous surfaces that pedestrians or “trespassers” might walk or run across, there should be some clear warning of the potential danger.
The most common form of injury to occur on hotel property is a slip-and-fall due to hazardous surfaces that individuals have not been warned about.
We provide a comprehensive guide to receiving compensation for slip-and-fall injuries on any property that is not your own.
Hotel Liability Does Not Always End at the Property Line
Under Colorado law, there is a “special relationship” that exists between an innkeeper and an invited guest. Because of this relationship, there is an extra high duty of care to be observed, and there are situations when it extends beyond the hotel or resort property line.
One situation is in the case of an eviction: when a guest becomes unruly and is required by management to leave the premises.
Colorado courts have established that hotels, inns, resorts, bed-and-breakfasts, and Airbnb’s could be held liable if removing a guest from the premises results in a foreseeable injury to the guest.
Let’s look at a Colorado court case as an example.
Westin Operator, LLC v. Groh
After a late night out in downtown Denver, Jillian Groh brought a group of friends back to a room she had rented at The Westin.
Security guards confronted the group about the noise level in the room and ultimately evicted them, even though Groh and her companions told the guards that they were drunk and could not drive.
The Hotel’s Costly Decisions
On the way out, one of Groh’s friends asked a guard if the group could wait in the lobby for a taxicab because it was freezing outside. The guard responded by blocking the door and saying, “No, get the **** out of here.”
Seven people got into Groh’s car, a Chrysler PT Cruiser, with a drunk driver behind the wheel. Fifteen miles away, they rear-ended another vehicle, resulting in a crash that killed one man and left Groh in a persistent vegetative state with traumatic brain injuries.
Groh’s parents, William and Janelle Groh, brought a personal injury lawsuit against The Westin.
Trial and Appeals Courts Wrestle with ‘Duty of Care’ and Hotel Liability
Both the trial court and the Colorado Court of Appeals went back and forth over how much duty of care The Westin owed to guests it felt compelled to evict.
The trial court ultimately decided that The Westin:
- was not obligated to determine whether any guests were intoxicated,
- did not owe a duty of care once the guests were beyond hotel premises, and
- that hotel employees had caused the guests no harm during the eviction process.
The trial court eventually found in favor of The Westin. Groh’s parents immediately appealed the ruling.
The court of appeals, at first, affirmed the trial court’s ruling by a 2-1 vote on a three-judge panel. The court held that The Westin did not owe a duty of care to Groh because the innkeeper-guest special relationship terminated upon her eviction.
Groh’s parents petitioned for rehearing, and when the case came up again, one of the original three judges had retired. The second appellate hearing resulted in a 2-to-1 finding for the Grohs.
At the rehearing, the appellate court held that:
“A hotel must evict a guest in a reasonable manner, which precludes ejecting a guest into foreseeably dangerous circumstances resulting from either the guest’s condition or the environment.”
The Final Word
The Westin asked the Colorado Supreme Court for certiorari review. After much consideration, the high court affirmed the appellate court’s second ruling in favor of Groh, stating:
“Based on the special relationship that exists between an innkeeper and guest, we hold that a hotel that evicts a guest has a duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. This requires the hotel to refrain from evicting an intoxicated guest into a foreseeably dangerous environment.” Westin Operator, LLC v. Groh, 347 P.3d 606, 2015 Colo.
When Hotels Are Not Liable for Injuries on Their Property
Colorado premises liability law allows injured parties to file lawsuits only if hotel negligence contributed to foreseeable accidents or harm.
A foreseeable accident is one that any hotel manager or employee knows could happen, or should have known could happen, under the circumstances present when the accident occurred.
A hotel’s legal duty of care to protect you from harm does not extend to all harm.
Examples of Non-Foreseeable Harm
If you invite a person to your hotel room and become injured because of any actions by that person, or activity between you and that person, the hotel will not be held liable because management has no way of foreseeing or preventing that. Let’s look at a couple of examples:
Fighting, rough-housing, or engaging in any risky behavior that has nothing to do with services provided by the hotel or resort won’t be the hotel’s responsibility. For instance, you and a friend get into a heated argument in your room that comes to blows and your jaw is broken. Don’t count on the hotel to pay your medical bills in this case.
Another good scenario is if you slip and fall down well-maintained hotel stairs and you’re intoxicated or under the influence of drugs at the time. Again, the hotel likely will not be held responsible for any injuries you incurred during your tumble.
Proving Negligence in a Hotel Liability Case
To sue a hotel for an injury you’ve suffered, you must be able to show that the hotel did something wrong to cause it. This is called negligence. It is the standard element in nearly all personal injury cases.
Establishing hotel liability for negligence requires proving each of the following four factors:
- Duty of Care: If you were a paying guest, hotel employee, construction worker, or delivery person and you suffered an injury on hotel property, then you are owed the highest duty of care. If you were on hotel property for a social function unrelated to either your business or the hotel’s, you are still owed a fairly high duty of care.
- Breach of Duty: When a hotel does not regularly inspect the premises, fails to keep the public areas reasonably safe, or doesn’t take reasonable steps to warn of dangerous conditions, it has likely breached its legal duty to guests.
- Causation: You must be able to show a direct link between the hotel’s breach of duty — failure to clean up a spill, for example — and the injury you’ve suffered. If another guest inside your room left stray ice cubes on the bathroom floor and you slipped on the water and broke your elbow, that’s not a breach of duty by the hotel. However, the hotel could be found liable if hotel staff cleaned your room but neglected the melted ice water on the bathroom floor before you slipped on it. It is important to demonstrate that the hotel’s breach of duty was the actual or proximate cause of the injury.
- Measurable Harm: To succeed in a negligence claim against the hotel, you must be able to prove you suffered an injury or some other loss, such as items stolen from your room, or expensive equipment damaged in a fall. It is not enough to show that there was a hazard and an accident occurred. If no injury resulted, then there’s no case.
How Long Do I Have to File a Personal Injury Claim Against a Hotel?
In Colorado, the statute of limitations to bring a personal injury claim against a hotel is two years from the date of the injury.
What if a Certain Hotel Employee Caused the Injury?
Not all injury claims by individuals against hotels are the result of pure accidents. Sometimes, harm can result from the deliberate negligence or intentional actions of a member of hotel staff, such as a cook, maid, check-in clerk, valet, or security guard.
Under those circumstances, an injured guest could bring one personal injury claim for negligence under premises hotel liability law. They can also bring a vicarious liability claim against the hotel as an employer for their bad decisions in screening, hiring, or failing to properly train the employee whose actions or gross negligence caused the injury. (C.R.S 13-21-111.5, as amended by HB 21-1188)
Examples of gross hotel employee misconduct can include:
- stealing cash or other valuables from a guest’s room
- allowing a guest to be assaulted on hotel property
- serving contaminated food
- causing luggage to go missing by leaving it unattended in a hallway or lobby instead of taking it directly to a guest’s room or waiting vehicle
- remaking a previous guest’s slept-in bed instead of stripping and washing the bedding, causing a bed-bug infestation
- failing to completely shut a guest’s room door after performing housekeeping service, allowing an intruder to either steal valuable items or wait to ambush the guest
A hotel can only be found vicariously liable as an employer if the negligent staff member is an employee and not an independent contractor.
Furthermore, vicarious liability does not apply if the employee takes a personal detour or when their adverse actions have nothing to do with their employment duties.
How to Prove Your Injury Claim
The burden of proving that a hotel is responsible for your injuries is on you. Therefore, it’s important to know what to do if an injury occurs.
First, begin gathering helpful evidence as soon as possible.
Ask for the Manager
The sooner you can connect your injury to the event or negligence that caused it, the more easily you can start building a valid claim. The manager can provide you with the name and contact information of the hotel’s insurance company. The manager can also see to it you are provided with a copy of the injury incident report.
Also, make sure to write down the manager’s name, title, and contact information in case you need to call on them later as a witness.
Get Medical Attention
Refusing or delaying medical care after an accident can only undermine your personal injury claim if it turns out later that you were hurt worse than you initially thought.
Therefore, get someone to call 911 if you fear your injuries are serious and get a medical evaluation as soon as you can. If you’re not sure if your injuries are minor or serious, contact your primary medical care provider or check in at an urgent care center to be evaluated. Wherever you get treatment, make sure they know when, where, and how the injury occurred.
Talk to Witnesses
Any friends or family who might have been with you when the injury occurred are acceptable witnesses, but witnesses who don’t know you are even better. Independent witnesses are excellent because they have no personal or financial interest in your claim.
Get Visual Evidence
Use your smartphone to collect photographs and videos of the conditions that caused your injury. Your phone can also record real-time witness statements, employee admissions, and/or be used to document your version of how the accident happened while the memory is fresh and clear. If you or someone near you can take photographs of your injury, even better.
Keep Proof of Damages
Remember, if there’s no injury, there’s no injury claim. That’s why you must keep copies of all medical records and bills from the injury, as well as prescription receipts and transportation costs.
If your injury from the hotel keeps you from working, ask your employer to provide written verification of wages or bonuses you’ve lost and any vacation or sick days you use while you recover.
What Can I Recover from a Hotel Injury Claim?
If you’ve been injured on hotel or resort property and filed a successful personal injury claim proving negligence, you could collect both economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages are easier to determine through medical bills and other documentary evidence. Economic damages may include:
- medical bills and future medical expenses
- property damage
- lost wages and/or lost earning capacity
Non-economic damages are more subjective and therefore harder to determine. However, non-economic damages can really add up depending on the seriousness of the injury or the negligence that caused it.
Non-economic damage compensation can include:
- pain and suffering and/or emotional distress
- loss of enjoyment of life
If your injuries were minor, you can try and negotiate a fair settlement with the hotel’s insurance carrier. Add up the amount of your medical bills, any related out-of-pocket expenses, costs to replace ruined clothing or other items, and any lost wages (if any) you should be reimbursed. Make sure to send a written demand that includes copies of your medical bills, receipts, and any other documentary evidence.
If you believe you’re entitled to non-economic damages on top of all that, it’s best to hire a personal injury attorney.
Maximize Your Potential Compensation
If you sustained severe injuries at a hotel, or worry you won’t get fair compensation for the relatively minor harm you endured, then you will need the help of an experienced personal injury attorney to get a satisfactory outcome. If the hotel’s negligence was particularly galling, your attorney could seek punitive damages in addition to available insurance money.
Get the Right Attorney for Your Hotel Injury Claim
If a hotel’s negligence has caused you injury, cost you money, and left most of your immediate plans in limbo, find out your legal options. The thought of taking on a hotel and its large insurance provider can be daunting even when you’re sure you have a case. Hire a tenacious, experienced personal injury lawyer to fight them and get you the outcome you deserve. Call (303) 688-0944 to begin your free case assessment.