Client set on fire at Williamsburg Hotel

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*This is a case against a property owner or manager for negligence in the design, maintenance, construction, upkeep, signage and staffing.

The law in Virginia is that an Innkeeper, must use reasonable care for the safety of its guests. Responsibility for the premises rests upon the innkeeper, and the guest may generally assume that they are safe.. Although an innkeeper is not an insurer of his guest’s personal safety, his liability does extend to injuries received by the guest from being placed in an unsafe room, because such a matter is peculiarly within the knowledge, control and power of the innkeeper. The Supreme Court of Virginia ruled:

An innkeeper is in direct and continued control of his guest rooms, while a lessee may not be expected to do many things for his own protection.” It shall be the duty of keepers of hotels, inns…to exercise due care and diligence…and to take every reasonable precaution to protect the person and property of their guests….”

“The qualified duty of ordinary care may become an absolute duty and does become an absolute duty where the proprietor knew or should have known of a danger that might easily have been removed.” In the present case, the Inn’s employees could not possibly testify under oath that they honestly believed that the bathroom heat lamps would last forever and that when they came to the end of their expected use life, that they could not cause serious injury to unsuspecting guests. Deformed coils that had been heated and cooled well beyond their life expectancy could have easily been removed or replaced, at very little expense, eliminating this foreseeable risk to the guests of the Inn. The innkeeper’s liability is usually a jury question.
The fact that Colonial Williamsburg provided daily housekeeping to the room would not meet the requisite reasonable care standard. The host innkeeper is held to have promised a safe accommodation. He cannot escape this undertaking by proving he was not neglectful or indifferent. In another case involving aging appliances and burn injuries, was a suit by a motel patron against an innkeeper. In that premises liability case, there was evidence that hot water could reach a shower at a temperature of some 160 degrees, and that for personal use, this was excessive and could produce second degree burns in a matter of seconds. The evidence was that the plumbing fittings were old and there were no procedures for inspection (defendants trusting to reporting by occupants or housemaids). The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the jury was warranted in finding that this situation was not reasonable care under the circumstances.

In the present case, ABRAMS LANDAU, Ltd. hired engineering experts to visit the scene and examine the injury causing device. Mr. Landau visited the room at the Inn right away, and had the engineer visit thereafter. These inspections revealed that one of the primary causes of this blaze, and our client’s injuries, was the negligent maintenance and inspection of the heater on the part of Colonial Williamsburg. Specifically, our engineer noted, “Had the Defendant performed even a simple visual inspection of the heating light, the deformed heating coil would have been discovered. Their failure to do so was a cause of the plaintiff’s injuries . . . the Inn’s failure to replace the heating light when its life expectancy had expired was unreasonable and a cause of their guest’s injuries.” This evidence alone is sufficient to cause the case to go to the jury.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has also concluded that nothing in Virginia’s jurisprudence, statutory or decisional, denies the availability of the implied warranty – devoid of negligence – for a guest’s recovery from his innkeeper for injuries caused by a weak fixture provided for the guest’s use. Where a plaintiff alleged that franchisor of hotels impliedly and expressly warranted through advertising that hotel was safe for its intended use, and made other implied and express warranties, all of which were breached, under Virginia law, a warranty action may be brought. Here, the Inn held itself out for the safe occupancy of the plaintiff as a member of the travelling public. It implied that it was safe for its intended use, and this warranty was breached, to the detriment of the plaintiff.

While there are no reported Verdicts or Settlements in similar cases, our legal research revealed a Bathtub Scalding lawsuit with a substantial plaintiff’s verdict. There were 2nd- and 3rd-degree burns over the plaintiff’s entire left buttock; 2nd- and 3rd-degree burns on her genitalia; 2nd-degree burns on the her left ankle; and significant aggravation of plaintiff’s Alzheimer’s disease. For more information about Premises Liability cases, please contact us at ABRAMS LANDAU, Ltd. (www.LandauLawShop.com)

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