Hotels are an oasis. We stay at hotels during vacations, when visiting friends and family, when on business trips and for a variety of other reasons. Hotels owners try to make the experience pleasurable for all their guests. Unfortunately, all guests’ experiences don’t turn out as planned.
Despite frequent inspections by management and strict supervision of staff, hotel accidents and other unpleasant incidents sometimes occur. When these events happen, guests can suffer injuries.
Common causes of hotel injuries include:
Swimming pools are exceedingly dangerous. When the perimeter area is too smooth, a guest can easily fall. Because the surface is often partially made of concrete, a fallen guest can suffer serious injuries, including broken bones and head trauma. Improperly marked steps inside a hotel pool can result in a guest losing his footing.
To save money, many hotels make in-house repairs to furniture, which breaks down from overuse. Some furniture is just too old. It’s just a matter of time before a customer’s weight is enough to make the chair collapse with the guest in it, resulting in injury.
Slip and falls
Slipping, tripping and falling frequently occur when there’s a difference in flooring from one place to another. Worn carpeting, and cracked or uneven flooring can cause a guest to catch a heel or toe, often resulting in the guest falling face first onto the ground. Bunched rubber matting at entries and exits are invitations to stumbling into glass and wooden doors.
If left unrefrigerated, or if meat or poultry is undercooked, hotel restaurant food can poison the customer. Unsanitary kitchen conditions, employees with unclean hands, and improperly sterilized utensils can all transfer bacteria to guests.
Bed bugs are very small insects that can infest hotel mattresses, pillows, furniture, and even light switches. They are hard to see with the naked eye and very difficult to eradicate. Bed bugs bites can cause small blisters on human skin that sometimes don’t appear for hours, or even days after contact. The guest can also carry them home in clothes and suitcases. It can cost thousands of dollars to erradicate the bugs from a private home.
Burns can occur when hotels set hot water thermostats too high. Showerheads can flow scalding water on an unsuspecting guest’s skin, resulting in first-, and sometimes second-degree burns. Irons with faulty gauges or switches that fail to shut down properly can easily burn a guest’s hands, resulting in scarring.
Guests, especially unsuspecting tourists and vacationers, often drop their guard while at hotels. They carry cash and credit cards on them instead of leaving them in their rooms or the hotel’s safe. Criminals know these guests are easy targets. When a hotel fails to provide adequate security, criminals can ply their trade, leaving guests physically injured and psychologically traumatized.
Hotel Liability and Negligence
Hotels have a very high legal duty of care (obligation) to do everything reasonably possible to make their premises safe for all guests, and to prevent hotel accidents wherever and whenever possible.
The courts define a hotel’s premises to include the hotel’s airport shuttle bus, the hotel parking lot as well as inside the hotel itself. This includes all common areas, meeting and banquet halls, swimming pools, guest rooms, and other areas where guests are free to move about. Guests are invitees and entitled to protection from all reasonably foreseeable harm.
The terms reasonable and foreseeable are two of the basics of liability. Although a hotel has a legal duty of care to protect you from harm, it doesn’t extend to all harm. The duty is to protect you from harm that could reasonably happen.
A foreseeable harm is one that a sensible hotel manager knows or should know could occur due to the hotel’s actions or omissions. When a hotel’s act or omission results in a guest’s injury, the courts consider it as the hotel’s negligence.
For example, a knowledgeable hotel manager understands, or should understand, that leaving ice to accumulate outside the hotel’s entrance in winter could result in a guest slipping and falling. The harm is foreseeable. Consequently, the hotel manager’s failure to have the ice removed is a breach (violation) of her duty of care to the guest who falls.
In the alternative, let’s say the manager had all the ice at the hotel’s entrance removed. A hotel guest who’s returning from dinner where he consumed an entire bottle of wine, trips and falls on a rubber mat outside the hotel, cracking his skull. The guest’s voluntary intoxication makes his slipping and falling unforeseeable.
The hotel manager has a duty to protect her guests from reasonably foreseeable incidents that might harm them. It isn’t reasonable for a hotel manager to have to protect a guest from injuries because of the guest’s voluntary intoxication.
Burden of Proof
What happens when the hotel breaches its duty of care, and you’re injured? Before you can succeed in a personal injury claim against the hotel, the law requires you to meet a burden of proof. To meet your burden of proof, you must have sufficient evidence to show:
- The hotel had a duty of care to protect you from harm.
- The hotel breached its duty by permitting you to be injured.
- Your injury resulted in specific and identifiable damages.
Damages include medical and therapy bills, out-of-pocket expenses for such things as medicines, crutches, etc., lost wages, and pain and suffering (emotional distress).
Evidence to Prove Your Claim
To meet your burden of proof requires evidence. Here’s what you need to do:
Contact the hotel manager
You’ve heard the expression “Time is of the essence.” When it comes to hotel injuries, this is especially true. You must link your injury to the event that caused it, and do so as soon as possible. The more time that passes between your injury and your reporting it, the greater the chance the hotel manager can deny it.
For example, if you are cut by a protruding nail in your room, you should call the manager before you leave the room. Unless you’re very seriously injured, don’t leave your room until the manager arrives. When she arrives, ask her to write a report. Hotel policy probably requires her to do so anyway, but make sure she completes the report in your presence. Be sure to show her the nail and your injury.
Tell the manager you need the name of the hotel’s insurance company. If she doesn’t have that information, she may tell you someone from the corporate office will contact you. That’s fine.
Ask for medical assistance. Some of the more upscale hotels can summon a doctor to your room. If a doctor isn’t available, ask for someone in management or the paramedics to take you to the closest emergency room or medical clinic for treatment.
If paramedics take you to the ER, they will write their own patient transfer report. You can get a copy of it for a nominal charge. Be sure to ask the hospital for copies of your admitting chart and the emergency room doctor’s written diagnosis and prognosis. The doctor’s diagnosis will specifically link your wound to the treatment you required.
Talk to witnesses
Witness statements are building blocks in your injury claim. The more you have, the stronger your claim will be. Eyewitnesses, especially those with no personal or financial interest in your claim are the best. The insurance company will take their version of events seriously.
For example, let’s say you were out by the hotel pool. When you stepped down into the shallow end, your foot slipped on a small step. As your foot slipped, you fell, striking your head on the pool’s edge. Another guest happened to be sunning in a chair close to where you fell. When she saw you slip and fall, she jumped from her chair to help you out of the pool.
You were sure there wasn’t a step inside the pool. You didn’t see one. When you and the witness looked closer, you saw there was a step, but because it had no marking or tread, it was virtually invisible beneath the water.
While waiting for the manager to provide medical assistance to treat the cut on your head, ask the witness to write down how she too couldn’t see the “invisible step.” Ask her to confirm that in her written statement. Make sure she clearly explains how she saw you fall and hit your head on the side of the pool. Remember to have her sign and date her statement.
Don’t rely on just one witness. Ask other witnesses, including friends and family, to write their statements as well. Grab any piece of paper. Even the back of a lunch napkin will do.
Get photos and video
Cell phones can multitask. Your cell phone can photograph and video the cause of your injury and the injury itself. The audio can record witness statements, employee admissions, and your own version of the events leading to your injury.
For example, when sitting down at the desk in your hotel room the chair beneath gave way, and you fell to the floor injuring your back. After you call the manager, take out your cell phone and photograph the broken chair. Use the video function to take a panoramic view of the room and the chair as it sits broken on the floor.
If a housekeeper is close by, ask her to come in to witness what happened. Ask her if she normally cleans your room. Ask her whether she knew the chair was weak or whether someone repaired it recently.
The housekeeper may say something like, “Yes, I reported the chair to my supervisor. I told her the chair’s leg was loose and a customer could fall.” Such a statement is an admission against interest, or a statement made that’s not in the speaker’s favor. In this case, it’s an employee’s statement against her employer’s interest. Admissions against interest make very credible evidence.
Proof of damages
To complete your burden of proof in a hotel injury claim requires evidence of damages. If you don’t have any real damages (costs relating to your injury), then you don’t have a claim. You need to make copies of your medical bills, receipts for prescriptions, bandages, doctor’s office parking lot fees, and even receipts for the gasoline you used for all the trips.
You also need written verification of your lost wages. Be sure your supervisor sets out on company letterhead a detailed itemization of the wages you’ve lost. Include any missed bonuses, and any vacation or sick days you used. It all counts as compensation.
Contacting the Hotel Insurance Company
When you first speak with the insurance company, you’ll receive a claim number. Write it down. You’ll use that number in all future correspondence. By the time you speak with the claims adjuster, it’s likely he already spoke with the hotel’s management and has his version of events.
Tell the adjuster you have evidence supporting your claim. Agree to send her copies of your medical bills and out-of-pocket expenses, medical records, witness statements, photographs, and video and audio recordings.
The adjuster will want to wait until your medical treatment and physical therapy have run their course. At that time, she’ll begin settlement negotiations. Be sure not to enter into settlement negotiations until your treatment has ended, and the adjuster has copies of all evidence of your damages.
When to hire an attorney
If your injuries are soft tissue, including minor cuts and bruises, sprains, etc., you can probably handle your own claim. If your injuries are the more serious hard injuries including second- or third-degree burns, broken bones, head trauma, etc., you need a personal injury attorney.
The stakes are too high with serious injuries to risk handling the case on your own. Most personal injury attorneys offer free initial visits to review the details of your case. Take advantage of this offer and meet with a licensed attorney in your area.
See an example of a hotel injury demand letter here.
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