Florida is a major tourism industry hub, drawing more than $80 billion a year. Hotels, motels, resorts and other property owners get a huge chunk of that. In return, they are expected to provide a reasonably safe space for guests. Courts have grappled with how to define this, though, and there is no clear, brightline rule. Typically, the courts will take into account the foreseeability of a certain accident or injury, based on whether it’s happened before or whether the circumstances make it likely.
In the recent case of Goodwin v. Al J. Schneider Co., the Kentucky Supreme Court was asked to weigh in on whether a hotel was liable for the slip-and-fall injury suffered by a guest in a shower that was not equipped with a bath mat, as showers in other suites were.
According to court records, it was not disputed that plaintiff and his wife were attending a convention in August 2011 and stayed at defendant hotel. The day after they arrived, plaintiff slipped and fell as he was exiting the shower. As a result, he suffered injury to his knee. The bathtub was equipped with a “grab bar,” but it did not have a bathmat. After the fall, staffers at the hotel provided him with a bathmat. Later, plaintiff learned from other attendees at the convention that their rooms were equipped with bath mats.
Plaintiff then filed a slip-and-fall lawsuit, alleging that he was a business invitee, the surface of the bathtub was slippery and therefore was a dangerous condition and defendant hotel failed to exercise reasonable care in removing the dangerous condition or warning patrons of its existence. His injuries, he alleged, were the result of the hotel’s failure to exercise reasonable care.
Defendant hotel responded that plaintiff’s injuries were the result of his own failure to exercise ordinary care, and filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. The court reasoned it was not convinced the hotel had a duty to provide bathmats for all of its guests just because it had provided them for some rooms. The court held that while a hotel has to provide safe accommodations, it doesn’t have to be responsible to insure a guest’s safety.
Plaintiff appealed, but the appellate court affirmed. The court noted that while the hotel owed a duty to plaintiff, as an invitee, to discover unreasonably dangerous conditions and either eliminate them or warn about them, there was no breach of this duty here because, although lack of a bathmat can present a fall hazard, this is neither unreasonably dangerous and the potential for danger should have been obvious to plaintiff. Plaintiff had used the shower at least once before and was privy to its condition, which posed an open-and-obvious slip-and-fall hazard.
The state supreme court reviewed and reversed. The court said the question was not whether the hotel had a duty to provide bath mats, but whether the failure to do so breached its duty of care. This a separate and distinct issue from whether the hazard was open-and-obvious, and the state high court ruled that both lower courts had conflated the two. Breach of duty can occur whether the hazards are hidden or obvious. The court had a duty, in weighing a request for summary judgment, to determine solely whether there was a breach of duty, not whether the condition was open and obvious.
Thus, the case was remanded for further proceedings.
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Goodwin v. Al J. Schneider Co., Oct. 20, 2016, Kentucky Supreme Court
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