With disturbing frequency, we see reports of violent crimes at hotels, bars and other public places resulting in grave personal injuries and deaths. If the victims of these violent crimes are lucky, the perpetrators will be caught and brought to justice in criminal proceedings, while the injured person or survivors of the victims live on to suffer permanently.
Of course, punishment of the criminal (if caught) may offer some sense of retribution, but it does nothing to compensate the victims for their loss. And a personal injury lawsuit against a criminal, except in rare circumstances, is often symbolic as there are no assets to pursue.
Criminals, as we know, will be criminals. That being said, who has the duty to protect these victims of violent crimes in the first place? Massachusetts law is clear that businesses such as hotels and inns have a special duty and responsibility to protect against unreasonable risk of harm to their guests and others, including negligent, intentional and even criminal acts of third persons.
Thus, it has been found that a hotel could be held responsible for the murder of a guest in her room, even though the murderer was never found, because the hotel lacked adequate security to deter and protect her.
Fund v. Hotel Lenox of Boston, 418 Mass. 191 (1994).
And people injured in a fire set by an arsonist at an inn were allowed to receive compensation from the inn, which lacked adequate security or egresses to protect them.
Addis v. Steele, 38 Mass. App. Ct. 433 (1995).
In addition to the duty of reasonable care, Massachusetts cases have held that hotels, or “innkeepers,” have an even higher duty of care to their guest to protect them from personal injuries and death caused by crime or other violent acts, a duty akin to an insurer.
Worcester Insurance Co. v. Fells Acres, 4087 Mass. 393 (1990).
The rationale for this law is that guests in a hotel, because it is not their home, put themselves in a position where they must and should be able to rely on the “innkeeper’s” care and vigilance.
Determining whether a hotel or other business breached its duty of care requires careful and thorough investigation of what the business knew or should have known when they should have known it, and what they could and should have done to prevent the assaults, injuries or deaths that occurred on their premises. Ultimately, of course, whether the business breached their duty and contributed to, or failed to prevent the violent crime, is a question for a jury.
When you think about it, the duty imposed by law on hotels and other businesses to provide security is what we have come to expect in our daily lives. We expect hotels, restaurants, stores, apartment complexes, and other public places to have adequate security, a security plan, cameras, and the like. We expect that a business which suspects criminal or other suspicious activity in or around its premises will take reasonable steps to protect customers and guests from injuries suffered because of this activity.
When these businesses fail to live up to the standards which the law requires of them, victims have more than just rights against a criminal perpetrator.