Liability for Guest Injuries


Running a hotel or inn are businesses of a public nature and the law imposes certain duties and liabilities on the inn keeper and hoteliers regarding the conduct of their business. However, the duties of the proprietor of a restaurant and that of an inn keeper are not the same.

The duties and obligations of both innkeepers and their guests are legal rather than contractual. When a person is received in a hotel as a guest, the law implies a contract between the proprietor and the guest that the proprietor, in addition to furnishing proper accommodations, will exercise proper care for the guest’s safety, and the guest will refrain from any offensive conduct that would be detrimental to the hotel.  An innkeeper’s duty to protect a guest from injury may be a contractual duty or a duty imposed by law by reason of the relation of the parties.

The proprietor’s duty of reasonable care for the safety of its guests and to protect them from harm due to reasonably foreseeable risks of injury is a continual legal duty, the breach of which gives rise to a cause of action for negligence. By the very nature of the relationship between innkeeper and guest, the innkeeper impliedly represented the hotel premises were in a reasonably safe condition[i]. Courts generally consider factual issues regarding the expectations of the guests based upon the services and practices typically provided by a particular class of hotel “from which a guest could reasonably expect a hotel to provide a service because it had been provided in the past[ii].” On the other side, the guest impliedly covenants not to damage or steal motel property.

However, a hotel owner or proprietor is not an insurer of his guests’ personal safety and the proprietor’s  common-law responsibility applies only to defects or conditions which are in the nature of hidden dangers, traps, snares, pitfalls, etc which are not readily observable[iii].  The duty is fulfilled when reasonable care is taken to prevent the invitee’s exposure to dangers which are more or less hidden, not obvious[iv].

The duty of care postulates a duty to warn the guests of hidden perils on the premises.  In addition, the restaurant owner is obligated to provide the guests furniture and appliances that may be used in the ordinary and reasonable manner without danger.  He/she also has a duty of reasonable periodic inspection[v]. An innkeeper is deemed to have constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition if that condition has existed for such a time as to reasonably have been discovered by the innkeeper[vi]. The innkeeper has a duty to warn invitees of any dangerous condition known, or which reasonably ought to be known, to the innkeeper but not by the invitee and the open and obvious doctrine does not absolve an inn keeper from liability[vii].

Further, there is no blanket duty to keep the entire premises free of danger. Instead, the owner/operator’s duty is limited to those parts of the premises to which the guests are invited or may reasonably be expected to go[viii].

[i] Rabon v. Inn of Lake City, 693 So. 2d 1126, 1130 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1st Dist. 1997).

[ii] Id.

[iii] Brown v. Alliance Real Estate Group, 1999 OK 7 (Okla. 1999).

[iv] Copeland v. Lodge Enters., 2000 OK 36, 11 (Okla. 2000).

[v] Dwyer v. Jackson Co., 20 Wis. 2d 318 (Wis. 1963).

[vi] Kauffmann v. Royal Orleans, Inc., 216 So. 2d 394 (La.App. 4 Cir. 1968).

[vii] Marriott International, Inc. v. Perez-Melendez, 855 So. 2d 624 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 5th Dist. 2003).

[viii] Smith v. Cochran, 124 N.C. App. 222 (N.C. Ct. App. 1996).