The Lawletter Vol 40 No 6
Can an innkeeper be held liable when an evicted guest is injured after leaving the premises? Yes, according to the Colorado Supreme Court, in a decision that may apply in other contexts as well. In Westin Operator, LLC v. Groh, 2015 CO 25, 347 P.3d 606, a hotel's security guards required a registered guest (Jillian Groh) and several of her friends to leave the premises because they were intoxicated and boisterous. One of the friends asked if the group could wait in the hotel's lobby while they called a taxi, because it was freezing outside, but the guards refused this request. Rather than calling a taxi, the group drove away in Groh's car, and an accident occurred about 15 miles from the hotel. An action was brought against the hotel for Groh's injuries.
The court considered whether the hotel owed a duty of care by drawing an analogy to cases involving injury to common-carrier passengers. The court relied on section 314A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, which recognizes certain special relationships that give rise to a duty of care. That section expressly refers to innkeepers and common carriers, as well as any "possessor of land who holds it open to the public," Restatement § 314A(3), and it imposes a duty "(a) to protect them [invited members of the public] against unreasonable risk of physical harm, and (b) to give them first aid after it knows or has reason to know that they are ill or injured, and to care for them until they can be cared for by others," id.§ 314A(1).
The court stated that the hotel's security guards had exposed the guests to two risks: the risk that a drunk person would drive or ride with a drunk driver and the risk of harm arising from winter weather conditions. In the court's view, there are several low-cost options available to ensure that an eviction is reasonable, including requesting police assistance, allowing intoxicated guests to wait in the lobby after they have called a taxi, or procuring a taxi for an intoxicated guest. 2015 CO 25, ¶ 36, 347 P.3d at 614. Summarizing the scope of a hotel's duty when evicting a guest, the court stated:
[W]e hold that the Westin had a duty to exercise reasonable care while evicting Groh, which required the hotel to refrain from evicting her into a foreseeably dangerous environment. Whether a foreseeably dangerous environment existed at the time of eviction depends on Groh's physical state and the conditions into which she was evicted, including the time, the surroundings, and the weather.
Id. ¶ 37, 347 P.3d at 615.
The court rejected the hotel's argument that any duty of care ended at the time the innkeeper-guest relationship ended (i.e., at the time of eviction), concluding that the eviction process had begun at a time when the special relationship still existed. The court also ruled that Colorado's Dram Shop Act had no bearing on the case, because the hotel had not provided any alcoholic beverages to Groh or her friends. The court remanded for trial on the merits, finding that there were jury questions as to key facts because "the record does not contain determinative information on the adequacy of the Westin's training on eviction procedures, the degree of Groh's intoxication, the accessibility of alternative transportation, the parties' knowledge as to the availability of alternative transportation, and the weather conditions at the time of eviction." Id. ¶ 45, 347 P.3d at 617.
The court's ruling may have implications for defendants other than innkeepers because of the broad scope of section 314A of the Restatement, which applies generally to premises that are open to the public. For example, bars that have "bouncers" to eject unruly patrons may be subject to potential liability if they do not act with reasonable care.