UK & Europe
Insurance & Reinsurance
The High Court has confirmed that hotels owe guests a duty to take reasonable care to protect them against injury caused by the criminal acts of third parties.
However in this particular case – where guests were catastrophically injured in a hammer attack - it was held that whilst the criminal act itself had been reasonably foreseeable, the likelihood of the attack occurring was extremely low. Therefore, the hotel had not breached its duty of care to the Claimants.
The Claimants were guests at the Cumberland Hotel ("the Hotel") in London, and were staying in adjoining rooms. Three of the Claimants (all young children) were attacked in their rooms. The attacker, Philip Spence, had entered the hotel from the street with the intention to steal items from the hotel. The room in question was accessible from the hotel corridor, as the door had been left on the latch by the Claimants.
The children sustained life changing injuries and their relatives suffered alleged psychiatric injuries. They all submitted a claim against the Hotel alleging that it had breached its duty "to take such care as in all the circumstances of the case was reasonable to see that their person and property were kept reasonably safe, whilst they were staying at the hotel".
The Claimants argued that the security at the hotel was inadequate, describing it as "haphazard and poorly managed," as the assailant had not been challenged by security.
They argued that the lack of appropriate security measures in the lobby meant "in effect [the Claimants'] bedroom doors were open to the street below". The Claimants also submitted that there should have been CCTV covering the corridors and guests should have been warned to close their doors.
The Hotel accepted that it owed its guests a duty of care but denied that the duty extended to include a responsibility to protect guests from criminal acts of third parties.
The Court found there was no liability on the part of the Hotel for the attack carried out by Mr Spence.
Mr Justice Dingeman set out his rationale as follows:
In respect of issue 1, the Court accepted that there was no general liability in tort on private bodies and public authorities for pure omissions. The Hotel Proprietors Act carries no duties for hoteliers to protect guests. However, liability for omissions had been considered in Robinson, and one of the four situations where liability would be imposed for an omission was present – where "A has assumed to a responsibility to protect B from that danger." The Court therefore held that the duty owed was "to take reasonable care to protect guests at the hotel against injury caused by the criminal acts of third parties."
As to point 2, the Court was satisfied that the criminal actions of Mr Spencer were not a break in the chain of causation as the duty owed required reasonable care against such a criminal act.
The foreseeability of the attack (point 3) was reasonable according to Mr Justice Dingeman, stating "a third party might gain entry to the hotel and might injure the guests… with consequences which might be very serious". Nonetheless, the likelihood of this occurring was low, and this was "relevant to what steps ought reasonable to have been taken by the hotel."
Taking this and other points into account, per point 4, there was no breach of the duty defined earlier. The Court held that "the evidence as a whole showed a hotel in which security was taken seriously". The hotel was not required to continuously monitor CCTV or install them in additional areas, nor "hand out a leaflet telling guests to shut their doors."
The Court concluded that "the hotel acted with reasonable care to protect guests at the hotel against injury caused by the criminal acts of third parties."
Furthermore, in the absence of a finding of a breach of duty, there was no need to make a finding on the issue of contributory negligence by some of the Claimants.
It is understood that the Claimants are considering an appeal.
What can we learn?
Comment: 22nd December 2020
"The judgment was appealed and the Court of Appeal upheld the first instance decision in December 2020. The Claimant sought to recast the duty of care solely onto the lobby officer's conduct, who had allowed the attacker to cross the lobby unchallenged. These submissions sought to change the nature of the duty alleged and would have involved a different approach to the lobby officer's evidence. However, the Court of Appeal held that the trial judge had correctly held there was no absolute duty to prevent attacks, the duty on the hotel was to take reasonable care to prevent attacks."