The Deauville Beach Resort on Miami Beach has closed several areas of the hotel due to code violations including problems with a fire alarm system and the capacity of exit areas in the hotel’s ballrooms and theater. While The Miami Herald reported a couple’s misfortune of sorting out the relocation of their wedding ceremony to the hotel’s basement sandwich shop, the Deauville is rightfully taking steps to protect itself against potential liability issues.
The code and life-safety issues that threaten shutting down the historic hotel, where, in 1964 The Beatles performed on The Ed Sullivan Show, raise the liability flag. As a general rule, property owners have a duty to keep their premises in a reasonably safe condition to protect guests from dangers of which the owner is aware, should be aware, or might reasonably foresee. Some premises security cases turn on the issue of foreseeability. Should the hotel, resort or other establishment have been able to foresee the possibility of a violent crime or other incident?
The first duty of a property owner is to eliminate or guard against harm. If that is not possible, the owner has a duty to warn guests of hidden dangers. An effective warning is one which is clear and gives the consequences for failure to follow the warning. By closing off areas of foreseeable risk and possible danger, the hotel is appropriately taking measures to help guard against liability issues.
Following are several examples of relevant case law:
A landowner has 2 basic duties: reasonable care to maintain premises in reasonably safe condition, and give warning of concealed perils which are or should be known and which are unknown to invitee.
Williams v. Madden, 588 So.2d 41 (1 DCA 1991)
In fulfilling its duty to maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition, “a landowner must conduct inspections appropriate for the premises involved.”
Yuniter v. A & A Edgewater of Florida, Inc., 707 So.2d 763 (Fla. 2d DCA 1998) (non security case) (questions concerning whether a proper inspection, if made, would have revealed the risks are issues of fact for jury)
Duty of care owed by a landowner to invitee with respect to protection from criminal acts is dependent upon foreseeability of such acts.
Admiral’s Port Condominium Ass’n. v. Feldman, 426 So.2d 1054 (Fla. 3d DCA 1983); Accord: Medina v. 187th Street Apartments, 405 So.2d 485 (Fla. 3d DCA 1981)
Standard of care in providing security will vary according to particular circumstances and location [of hotel].
Orlando Executive Park v. P.D.R., 402 So.2d 442 (5th DCA 1981)
The law imposes on hotels, apartments, innkeepers, etc. the duty to keep their buildings and premises in a condition reasonably safe for the use of their guests. The duty of maintaining safe premises cannot be delegated to another.
Goldin v. Lipkind, 40 So.2d 539, 541 (Fla. 1950)
“Evidence relevant to foreseeability includes the general likelihood of harm to the invitee, criminal activity in the vicinity, and security measures taken by the owner of the premises.”…”Other evidence relative to foreseeability include compliance of the premises with industry standards, the presence of suspicious individuals around the premises, and the peculiar security problems associated with the hotel, such as the number of bars and the fact that stairwells were apparently not restricted to emergency use only.”
Meyers v. Ramada Hotel Operating Co., 833 F.2d 1521 (11 Cir. 1987)
John Leighton will present a seminar in Orlando and Miami in the fall about Inadequate Premises Security Litigation. Mr. Leighton is the author of the two-volume treatise, Litigating Premises Security Cases (Thomson-West, 2006), the most comprehensive national text on handling and trying premises security cases. He is Co-Chairman of the American Association for Justice Inadequate Security Litigation Group, past Chairman of ATLA’s Motor Vehicle, Highway and Premises Liability Section, and a nationally recognized authority on inadequate security litigation. He is also Chairman of The Academy of Trial Advocacy, a national invitation-only association of the nation’s leading catastrophic injury trial lawyers.