We hear about injuries to customers resulting in large settlements in the news frequently. In any industry, there is some risk that clients or customers will be injured during the time they are patronizing the establishment. When these injuries occur it often results in a lawsuit. Who is at fault (and as a result, liable for the damage) generally comes down to a determination of the “duty” that is owed by the establishment owner to his patrons.
So when can someone be injured and lose? One scenario presented itself in Darlene Johnson v. Super 8 Lodge-Shreveport in 2008. Mrs. Johnson and her father were guests staying in a Shreveport, Louisiana, Super 8 Lodge hotel “Jacuzzi Suite” after evacuating their home as a result of a hurricane. Like most hotel rooms, this one had a television for guest use. Unlike many, this suite’s TV was positioned at a 90 degree angle to the bed, making it awkward to view while laying in bed but designed to be comfortably viewed from the provided couch. The hotel was aware that not all guests preferred to have the television facing the bed and offered a service moving the entire entertainment center around for them. While the majority of guests didn’t request it, it wasn’t an unusual request. In fact, Mrs. Johnson was aware of this service and had requested it multiple times during her stay. However, during this incident, Mrs. Johnson did not request the entertainment center be moved. Instead, she attempted to do it herself and was injured as a result of the television falling on her. She subsequently sued suggesting the television should have been secured to the entertainment center with a pivoting platform, as they should have anticipated a guest trying to move the TV themselves.
The crux of the debate is a matter of what level of duty was owed to their guests by the hotel operators. Duty is a technical term in negligence law that sets the lowest obligation that someone owes to someone else in a situation. A hotel is required to exercise “reasonable and ordinary care including maintaining the premises in a reasonably safe and suitable condition.” While they are not required to absolutely guarantee the safety of guests, hotels must be careful to keep them from anticipated injury. To succeed in a suit such as this, a guest needs to demonstrate that the television was in the hotel’s custody, that it created an unreasonable risk of harm to others, and that something about the defective condition caused the damage. The court ruled in favor of the hotel.
So how did Mrs. Johnson lose? She was injured by a device owned by the hotel, this should have been easy, right? The hotel even confirmed they recognized people would want the television moved. However, duty isn’t that simple as it requires asking if the defending party should have been expected to protect the injured from the specific injury. The court recognizes that there is nothing inherently dangerous about a waist-high television. After all, people are seldom injured by hotel televisions. In fact, it was perfectly stable when used facing the couch, as intended. As a result, Mrs. Johnson’s suggesting that the television should have been on a pivot to prevent her injury was found to be an unreasonable requirement to ask of a hotel operator.
Does this mean anytime you are injured in a hotel room you are out of luck? Not at all. The key issue here was Mrs. Johnson taking it upon herself to rearrange the room, especially while knowing someone could have done it more safely for her. Perhaps if the hotel had refused to move the entertainment center when asked, if the patron hadn’t been aware of the option or if the television couldn’t have been viewed from any commonly used point in the room, then this case could have ended differently for her. Every case is decided on subtleties and nuances just like this, providing even more rationale of why an attorney is important in the wake of an injury.
If you’ve been injured while patronizing a business, call the Berniard Law Firm and let an attorney inform you of your rights.