Safeguarding Hotel Guests
By Chad Callaghan Principal, Premises Liability Consultants | December 04, 2011
Hotel Executives are not expected to be insurers of guests' safety and security; however they do have a legal duty to provide reasonable measures for their protection. Decisions about security staffing or physical security measures should not be based solely on cost implications or occupancy levels, but instead should be based on a risk assessment that determines both the threats to the hotel and the vulnerabilities of the hotel.
Only after knowing what the risks to the hotel are should mitigation measures be put in place. Mitigation measures need not be all encompassing, but instead may start with simple solutions and escalate as necessary.
As the U.S. economy continues to falter, many hotels and hotel companies struggle to determine the appropriate level of security that will balance the need for guest privacy and security with the economics of the hotel. When making such decisions, many hoteliers are not typically aware that safety and security can and will be the subject of scrutiny by juries when security litigation occurs.
The genesis of this was the Garzilli v. Howard Johnson's lawsuit in 1976, where singer Connie Francis was attacked in a hotel room and sued the hotel for negligent security. This is widely believed to be the first time a commercial business (Howard Johnson's) was held liable for the criminal acts of a third party (the assailant). Since that time, civil litigation against property owners and managers has become commonplace. Recent studies indicate that hotels are among the top five commercial businesses being sued.
Duty of Care
All too often security staffing levels and technology in hotels are determined by financial capabilities or perceived operational need without consideration of the legal duty to provide reasonable care for the protection of guests. Exactly what constitutes reasonable care is not always easy to determine, but will surely include such things as crime in the area, prior incidents and size and vulnerabilities of the hotel property.