Litigation

Colorado Supreme Court: Hotel Owes Duty To Intoxicated Guest

 

The Supreme Court of Colorado recently held that a hotel could be held liable for an automobile collision that occurred after a security guard evicted an intoxicated guest. Westin Operator, LLC v. Groh, 2015 CO 25, 2015 Colo. LEXIS 295 (Colo. 2015). The action landed in that court after the Colorado Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of a trial court that granted summary judgment to the hotel. The suit had been brought by Jillian Groh’s parents after she and a group of intoxicated companions were evicted by a Westin security guard, ultimately resulting in a crash that killed one man and left Groh in a persistent vegetative state with traumatic brain injuries. In affirming the decision of the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court of Colorado set out the duty of care that a hotel owes to a guest during a lawful eviction from the hotel premises. 

The facts underlying the case were simple. On Saturday, March 3, 2007, Groh, along with two friends, registered as a guest at the Westin in Denver. Later that night, around 2:00 a.m., the women returned to the hotel, along with an additional five to eight people. Although other nearby rooms were occupied, there were no noise complaints. The group, however, attracted a security guard’s attention, and around 2:45 a.m., an argument occurred between the group and the security guard, resulting in Groh and her group being told to leave the premises. 

At least one person in the group informed the security guard that everyone was drunk and that the purpose of renting the room was to allow them to drink without driving. Some members of the group left separately, but the security guards escorted the Groh and the remaining group members outside. 

One of the group members testified at his deposition that he tried to look for a cab, but was unable to find one. He also stated that he had asked one of the security guards if the group could wait in the lobby while they called a taxi because it was cold outside, but the guard refused his request, blocked the door, and told him to “…get the f*** out of here.” 

At about 3:20 a.m., seven people loaded into Groh’s car, and the accident occurred shortly thereafter. The driver’s blood alcohol content was above the legal limit and she was driving at about 75 miles per hour when she struck another vehicle. 

After Groh’s parents filed suit, the action began a long process of winding through the Colorado courts, with the trial court granting summary judgment to the hotel. When the Colorado Court of Appeals reversed, it held that the hotel had a duty to evict a guest in a reasonable manner. Following the Westin’s appeal, the Supreme Court of Colorado affirmed, setting out a “reasonable care” standard that innkeepers owe to their guests. This standard requires that a hotel refrain from evicting an intoxicated guest into a foreseeably dangerous environment. The determination of whether a foreseeably dangerous environment existed at the time of eviction would depend on the guest’s physical state and the conditions under which he or she was evicted. These conditions include the time, surroundings, and weather. 

The court found that summary judgment was inappropriate because genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether the hotel breached its duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. In Groh’s case, the risks of drunk driving and injury were high, even though the possible availability of a taxi might have mitigated that risk. Moreover, a reasonable person could foresee that a group of intoxicated individuals evicted from a hotel might be involved in a drunken driving accident that would cause injuries. 

The action was remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings.       For more information about LexisNexis products and solutions, connect with us through our corporate site.