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Hotelsmag.com: “When There’s Trouble in Paradise; What Are You Liable For? ” [March 8, 2010] starstarstarstarstar

Hotelsmag.com – The Magazine of the Worldwide Hotel Industry – posted an article by John Elliott Leighton, about Resort Torts and potential liability of hotels and motels.

When There’s Trouble in Paradise, What Are You Liable For?

By John Elliott Leighton

Leighton Law, P.A. trial lawyers

Miami, Florida

Resort Torts are instances of civil liability for negligent or intentional acts that arise out of a resort, vacation or recreational setting. They involve hotel-motel safety; cruise ship accidents; pleasure boating and jet ski incidents; amusement and theme park liability; aquatic, diving and swimming incidents; gaming and casinos; plane crashes; rental car liability; moped, bicycle and motorcycle safety;  buses and tour guides; medical care provided to vacationers; and more.

Today’s law says that the duty of the hotel owner and operator is to keep their premises safe and free from obstructions or dangers.  Owners of hotels, golf resorts, and amusement or theme parks must also display timely and clear notice of any danger that could be unknown to the “invitee.” The law also provides that owners/operators of hotels, resort, or amusement parks are generally liable for the acts of their employees and respective agents.

Negligent security cases involving hotels, resorts and amusement and theme parks typically involve criminal assaults, such as robberies and sexual assaults. The law governing negligent security cases is largely a derivative of general premises liability law. The one who possesses the property is responsible for the care to the public. They must protect them from reasonably foreseeable international acts of third parties. Owners are obligated to provide adequate warning or protection.

Premises liability can come into play in incidents involving violent crime assaults due to negligent security or insufficient lighting, dangerous products, pool and spa tragedies, transportation negligence (plane/car/bus/taxi crashes), boating accidents, medical malpractice provided by an innkeeper` (hotel/motel) or cruise ship, and many others.

Key areas of potential hotel/motel liability:

A lack of security staff, or security personnel, who may not have been properly trained, or who took inappropriate action in a violent crime situation;

Lighting, which may have been inadequate at the start or poorly maintained after installation;

Security equipment, including access control, locking mechanisms and closed circuit television;

Perimeter control, or limiting access to a property through fencing, landscaping or other means (CPTED or “crime prevention through environmental design”);

Supervision, which may be inadequate in matters involving children in a kid`s club or other recreational area;

Policies and procedures: A business may not have security policies and procedures in place or the security personnel didn’t follow those procedures;

  • In cases involving innkeepers (hotel/motel owners or managers), providing security is a non-delegable duty. These businesses can hire a security guard or security company, but they are still on the hook in terms of liability. The actual performance of security duties can be delegated, but not the legal responsibility. In most cases, the duty of care is owed by the party in control of the property.
  • In any business that involves innkeeping, key control and access is a vital aspect of security.  The goal of these systems is to prevent access by someone other than the owner or occupier. Otherwise, there is potential for abuse or crime, as well as misdeeds committed by employees with master key cards.

Because the law exists to provide reasonable standards of care for operators of all resort businesses, it is essential  that the industry be aware of the nature and frequency of incidents which occur on and around their premises. By utilizing qualified experts and a legal team in advance, many of these problems can be prevented and the safety of the guests are enhanced.

John Elliott Leighton is the managing partner of Leighton Law, P.A., a trial law firm with offices in Miami and Orlando.  Mr. Leighton provides clients with extensive experience in the area of Resort Torts, including cruise ship, maritime, and violent crime/negligent premises security. Among his cases is the high-profile parasailing death in Pompano Beach, Florida of 15-year-old Amber May White. Amber May died while parasailing from head trauma along with internal injuries, sustained when she crashed into a building when the parasail on which she was riding snapped. Amber May’s sister Crystal also suffered head injuries in this tragedy. Mr. Leighton has spearheaded legislative efforts to bring some regulation to this rogue industry. His efforts in Tallahassee have resulted in a bill which he and the family hope to make law this year.

A board certified trial lawyer, Mr. Leighton is Chairman of the American Association for Justice Inadequate Security Litigation Group, Chairman of The Academy of Trial Advocacy, a national invitation-only association of the nation’s leading catastrophic injury trial lawyers, and past Chairman of the Association of Trial  Lawyers of America`s Motor Vehicle, Highway and Premises Liability Section. His two volume book, Litigating Premises Security Cases (Thomson-West, 2006), is the most comprehensive national text on handling and trying premises security cases.

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When_There_s_Trouble_in Paradise.pdf