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It’s like the opposite of suing gun makers

At first, this seemed a bit, err, silly:

A guest who was shot eight times in the parking lot of a Roanoke Holiday Inn Express should be allowed to sue the motel for not protecting its customers in a high-crime area, the Virginia Supreme Court has ruled.

Ryan Taboada had filed a $3 million lawsuit against the owners of the Holiday Inn Express after being shot and carjacked in the motel’s parking lot on Gainsboro Road Northwest in March 2003.

But there’s more to it:

According to police reports cited in the lawsuit, the motel’s staff or guests had been the target of at least 12 robberies or attempted robberies over a three-year period prior to the shooting.

The lawsuit also claims that police officials warned the business, owned by Danville company Daly Seven, that the property’s location posed certain dangers to its customers.

Despite those risks, the Holiday Inn Express decided to terminate its security force sometime before Taboada was shot, and failed to install surveillance cameras outside the motel, limit access to its parking lot and take other steps to ensure its guests’ safety, the lawsuit states.

And that makes it slightly less silly.

7 Responses to “It’s like the opposite of suing gun makers”

  1. countertop Says:

    If I recall, they also have a no weapons sign posted (though in fairness, it could be the other holiday inn closer to the highway – I’ve stayed in both)..

  2. bob reynolds Says:

    What a novel concept. The courts rule that the government has no duty to protect individuals and now we get a court that rules that private businesses do have a duty to protect individuals. WTF??

  3. Xrlq Says:

    Bob, you’re misreading the case. There’s nothing remotely “novel” about suing a premises owner for failure to take reasonable steps to limit a known danger or, barring that, to at least adequately warn their guests. This has nothing to do with whether or not any individual – in or outside law enforcement – has a legal duty to protect any other specific indidivdual against any specific crime. Suppose Daly Seven had not known of the crime problem prior to the incident in question, or that it had taken reasonable steps to mitigate the risk but Taboada ended up getting shot anyway. Could Taboada nevertheless argue that Holiday Inn had failed to protect him? Sure. Would that give him a cause of action against them? Hell no.

  4. mike hollihan Says:

    This brings up a related issue I’ve never seen in the media. Bank ATMs. There are cameras in the machines that take pictures, but otherwise they are just out there, wide open. How many folks get robbed at these things? How many banks have been sued over the lack of security at these things? I’d guess banks settle suits quickly and then get NDAs to keep everything quiet.

    But still, I can’t believe someone has come along to file a larger suit alleging just the same thing as in the Taboada case — known attractive crime nuisances. It seems so obvious (at least to me) but you never hear about it.

  5. Bob Says:

    Xrlq: “There’s nothing remotely “novel” about suing a premises owner for failure to take reasonable steps to limit a known danger or, barring that, to at least adequately warn their guests.”

    From the article: “The case broke new legal ground on the question of what steps a motel owner must take to protect guests from crimes committed on its property.” (Emphasis added)

    While I am not a lawyer (IANAL), I was under the impression that “new legal ground” was, in this context, essentially the definition of “novel”. Whether it is indeed novel is, I think, really beside the point. Having only the article to go on, we do not at this point know the reasoning used by the state supreme court. However, they did (reportedly) say a jury should hear the matter. My impression is (again, IANAL) that the jury is the trier of fact and the judge is the determiner of the law. So it would seem they are saying that, as a matter of law, the motel may have a duty to provide some type of “protection” to individuals that visit the hotels premises and that the jury will make a judgment of the facts of the case and determine the extent to which the motel failed to fulfill its “legal” obligation.

    In this case the “known” danger is not something which the hotel has any control over. It is not, for instance, a hole in the parking lot, a broken window, a swimming pool, a wet floor, or any of a fairly large number of other things that the hotel has control of and could take remedial or mitigating action in direct relation to.

    Xrlq, I may be misreading your argument but you seem to be saying that the hotel management has some responsibility to inform their guests that they might be victims of a criminal attack while on the premises. That certainly would be bad PR for a hotel. Do they also need to put up a sign at the end of the driveway stating that cars on the street might run into their customers? How about signs in the bathrooms stating that you can drown in the bathtub if you try to breathe under water?

    The questions above are a bit of a stretch because “everybody” knows of those dangers and they are not specific to the hotel. But then again, everybody old enough to be a customer of a hotel is aware that muggings and robberies can occur just about anywhere — including at a Holiday Inn Express hotel. Banks, for all the steps they take to make it difficult to successfully rob them, still get robbed – and everybody knows it; the banks don’t have to warn us.

    So my question is this: Under what moral or legal theory does it become the obligation of somebody you do business with to provide you with protection from, or a deterrent to, the criminal acts of third parties with whom they have no relationship?

  6. Xrlq Says:

    From the article: “The case broke new legal ground on the question of what steps a motel owner must take to protect guests from crimes committed on its property.” (Emphasis added)

    My point exactly: while the case may indeed have broken some new ground on the question of what steps a premises owner must take to protect its guests, there’s nothing at all new about the fact that it has to take some.

    My impression is (again, IANAL) that the jury is the trier of fact and the judge is the determiner of the law. So it would seem they are saying that, as a matter of law, the motel may have a duty to provide some type of “protection” to individuals that visit the hotels premises and that the jury will make a judgment of the facts of the case and determine the extent to which the motel failed to fulfill its “legal” obligation.

    Indeed they are. That’s not the new ground; that’s torts 101. By ruling that the owner may have this duty, the SC merely ruled that if the plaintiff can make the case that the motel owner knew enough that they should have provided security or at least warned their guests, the jury should be allowed to consider that possibility. To have ruled otherwise, on that issue at least, would have been insane.

    Xrlq, I may be misreading your argument but you seem to be saying that the hotel management has some responsibility to inform their guests that they might be victims of a criminal attack while on the premises. That certainly would be bad PR for a hotel.

    Of course. And candy manufacturers who sell crunchy frogs might lose sales if they admitted that their confections consisted not of mock frogs but of real, dead, unboned (therefore crunchy) frogs laced in lark’s vomit. Therefore, they shouldn’t have to warn their customers of this?!

    Do they also need to put up a sign at the end of the driveway stating that cars on the street might run into their customers?

    Those risks are obvious. In this case, the issue surrounds a known crime problem particular to the area, presumably one far and beyond the ordinary risk the average traveler assumes when he pulls over to stop at a random motel for the night. If a hotel had a driveway designed in a particularly bad way – or perhaps, on a street filled by unusually bad drivers – then perhaps there would exist a special risk along these lines, and an appropriate warning would indeed be in order. Otherwise, not.

    So my question is this: Under what moral or legal theory does it become the obligation of somebody you do business with to provide you with protection from, or a deterrent to, the criminal acts of third parties with whom they have no relationship?

    Basic premises liability. If you invite someone into your home or business, you take on certain responsibilities during their stay. You’re not absolutely liable for their safety, but you are responsible for mitigating or warning of risks known to you, which could not reasonably have been known to them. It’s your place; part of your job is to know more about it than a casual visitor could be expected to.

  7. bob Says:

    Xrlq,
    Thanks for the enlightenment.