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How to avoid liability for inadequate hotel security

publication date: Jun 3, 2012
author/source: Sun Choy

Wake-up call                                                      

By Sun Choy

Hotels have increasingly become the target of failure to provide adequate security claims. News headlines are filled with sensational claims from the "peeping Tom" lawsuit brought by ESPN correspondent Erin Andrews to stories about runaway jury verdicts for sexual assaults on hotel properties. What can be done to avoid, or at least mitigate, potential liability exposure?

While no security plan can guarantee the safety of all guests, there are certain common-sense areas that should be the focus of any comprehensive security plan for a hotel. Ultimately, addressing these areas well in advance of a lawsuit may prove to be critical in defending a failure to provide adequate security claim.

How to avoid liability for inadequate hotel security  

In most jurisdictions, hotels owe a non-delegable duty to keep the premises secure for its guests. In very general terms, liability turns on whether a hotel's effort to prevent a particular type of criminal activity was reasonable. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, plaintiffs argue that hotels have more knowledge and ability to prevent the crime than the victimized guest, especially given the hotel's years of experience in the industry. In making the claim that additional "security" would have prevented the criminal act at issue, plaintiffs typically focus on the following pressure point areas:

•    Investments in security - Plaintiffs, through a security expert, will challenge the sufficiency of capital investment in security, e.g., security guards, video surveillance, controlled access equipment, etc.

•    Policies and procedures - Plaintiffs may attack the sufficiency of the policies and procedures.  Even if the policies and procedures meet industry standards, plaintiff may assert that the hotel staff failed to follow the policies and procedures.

•    Inspections and warnings - Plaintiffs may claim that the hotel failed to conduct sufficient inspections of its premises to assess potential hazards, including criminal activity, and failed to provide adequate warnings to guests. 

•    Hiring - If the criminal act involves a hotel employee, plaintiffs may assert that the hotel failed to adequately screen staff by failing to conduct a criminal background check and then failed to adequately provide supervision

•    Training - Plaintiffs may assert that the hotel's staff was not adequately trained even if the hotel had a comprehensive security plan in place.

Hotels should proactively exam its existing security plan to determine if additional common-sense measures can be taken in these areas. In determining what makes sense, it may be helpful to ask how a potential juror may view the reasonableness of the security measures taken to prevent the crime at issue.

Sun Choy is a partner with Atlanta-based Freeman, Mathis, and Gary. Contact him at schoy@fmglaw.com. This information is general and educational and is not legal advice. For more information, visit www.hospitalitylawyer.com.

Source: Hotel Management

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