VIRGINIA BEACH, VA, March 3, 2006 — Today the Supreme Court of Virginia handed down eight opinions. One of the most interesting rulings involved a case that decided what responsibility a hotel owner has to patrons in their parking lot.
I t is well settled in Virginia that the owner of a business owes no duty to invitees on the premises to protect them from criminal assaultive behavior by third persons, unless the owner knows that such an assault is imminent. A Roanoke trial court applied that doctrine to strike a claim by a guest at a hotel who was horribly attacked in the hotels parking lot when he went to his car after initially checking in to the hotel.
Today, the Supreme Court reversed that judgment and remanded the case for trial on the guests $5 million claim. The decision is Taboada v. Daly Seven, Inc.
Daly Seven operates a Holiday Inn Express in downtown Roanoke. Taboada arrived at the hotel at about 2:00 a.m. one morning and went into the lobby to check in while his family stayed in the car. After taking care of the paperwork, he returned to his car, but was accosted by an assailant who demanded money and then shot Taboada eight times. He robbed Taboadas seven-year-old son of a wristwatch, and then drove off in the familys car; Taboadas infant daughter remained in the vehicle, strapped into a child safety seat, as the robber drove off.
Police apprehended the robber shortly thereafter, and the daughter was found safe. Taboada survived his injuries and brought this suit against the hotel, alleging that it knew of significant criminal activity in and around its parking lot, but took no effective actions to prevent such attacks. The hotel had discontinued its practice of maintaining a security presence in the lot during the night, allegedly for economic reasons.
The trial court looked to previous Supreme Court precedent holding that a business owner is not an insurer of the safety of its invitees. It ruled that unless the hotel knew that the attack was imminent, it had no duty to warn Taboada, and no duty to take steps to prevent the attack.
In reversing, the court today turns to the law of common carriers for analogous determinations. In both contexts, the court reasons, guests entrust their safety to their hosts, since the hosts can better appreciate the environment and the likely risks in those environments. The court rejects an analogy to landlord-tenant law, in which such a heightened duty does not exist. The specific precedential holdings of todays opinion include a finding that a hotel occupies a special relationship with its guests, sufficient to warrant the heightened duty.
In depth analysis of the other seven cases can be found at the Web site “Virginia Appellate News & Analysis,” http://www.virginia-appeals.com/ .
About L. Steven Emmert
Appellate lawyer L. Steven Emmert of Virginia Beach authors the Web site “Virginia Appellate News & Analysis” at http://www.virginia-appeals.com/ . He is available to the media as an Expert Resource for comment, analysis, and help wading through the legalese of the ruling at (757) 965-5000. Emmert is also Chairman of the Appellate Practice Subcommittee for the Virginia State Bar’s Litigation Section.
L. Steven Emmert contact
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