Just because someone with children checks into a hotel does not mean the hotel retains an inherent responsibility to monitor those youth. However, when a hotel accepts minors as guests, there is an expectation the owners and managers have considered foreseeable hazards and potential attractive nuisances that might cause injury to children. Further, there is an expectation that those dangers will be promptly addressed or warnings will be issued.
Unfortunately, this does not always happen.
Florida welcomes millions of tourists every year, and a large portion of those are families with children. While it’s true that, just like any other time, parents have a duty to supervise their children, when a child suffers serious injury due to encountering a hazardous condition at a hotel, there may be grounds for a negligence lawsuit rooted in the legal theory of premises liability.
Premises liability law in Florida generally holds that property owners have a duty of care to guests and they must keep their property in reasonably safe condition and address dangers within a reasonable amount of time. While some premises liability claims can be defeated by defendant arguing the danger was open and obvious, courts recognize children, due to immaturity and impulsiveness, do not act with the same degree of self preservation as adults. Therefore, potential dangers facing them require careful consideration by hotel owners and management.
That does not mean challenges presented by these claims are easy to overcome.
In this case, two parents and their three children, 6-year-old twins and a 5-year-old boy, were at a hotel to celebrate the twins’ birthday. Parents requested a first-story room, but when none were available upon arrival, they accepted one on the second story. At one point, mother opened the window to hear the sound of the ocean. The children were coloring and eating grapes in the main living area while parents busied themselves preparing dinner.
As they did so, they realized it had gotten quiet. The 5-year-old had gone missing. As it turned out, he hoisted himself up onto the window ledge, the screen popped out and he fell out onto the concrete below, sustaining serious head and brain injuries.
Parents filed a lawsuit against the hotel owners, alleging negligence and dangerous condition of property.
Defendants successfully argued for summary judgment on grounds it had no duty to install fall prevention devices on the windows and the boy’s injuries were in fact due to parent’s negligent supervision, rather than its lack of bars on the window. The fall, the court ruled, was not foreseeable.
Appellate court reversed. First, there was testimony from the hotel maintenance supervisor that there was a problem with people leaning on the windows, causing numerous screens to pop out of place. He initiated the placement of barriers on several windows in the hotel, but those barriers were not on the window out of which this child fell. While the parents’ alleged lack of supervision may be a point of contention at trial, it did not lift the duty of care defendant held to keep the property in reasonably safe condition for child guests.
Thus, the case was remanded to trial for further proceedings.
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Lawrence v. La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club , Oct. 31, 2014, Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One
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Public Entity Liability for Inadequate Emergency Response, Oct. 6, 2014, Naples Injury Lawyer Blog