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According to Florida case law as of the date of this article, there are several factors that a hotel should evaluate in determining whether or not crime is foreseeable (meaning, a crime is likely to occur). Those factors include:

  • the crime rate in the community
  • peculiar security problems created by the hotel’s design
  • industry standards
  • presence of suspicious people
  • the extent of criminal activity in the area

After evaluating these factors, if the hotel determines that a crime is foreseeable, then it has a duty to take adequate security measures to protect its guests.

QUICK FACT: A victim of a hotel’s negligent security has 4 years from the date of the incident to file a lawsuit. However, if a death resulted from the incident, the deadline to file a lawsuit is 2 years.

See:  Satchwell v. LaQuinta Motor Inns, Inc., 532 So. 2d 1348 (Fla. 1st DCA 1988)

The Case of the Guest Who Was Robbed and Beaten at the Interstate Motel

Erwin Satchwell needed a good night’s sleep one wintery February night back in 1984, so he decided to pull off the interstate and check into a La Quinta Motor Inn.  It was dark, getting close to midnight.  The motel neighbored a wooded, undeveloped area.

Mr. Satchwell checked in, got his room key, and made his way to his assigned motel room.  It was around 11:15 p.m.

As Mr. Satchwell carried his luggage into the motel room, he was accosted by robbers.  They beat him and took some of his belongings.

Erwin Satchwell was injured during the attack.  He filed a damages claim against LaQuinta.  When the motel refused to settle, he filed a personal injury lawsuit.  He asked for damages based upon negligence as well as punitive damages.

During the trial, there was testimony regarding a car being stolen from the motel’s parking lot two months prior (in December).  There was evidence that on the night of the attack upon Mr. Satchwell, the LaQuinta night auditor was on duty assisting new guests.  He also occasionally walked the area that night for security.

There was also evidence that in the past, LaQuinta had 2 security guards on the property during heavy business hours, to deal with unruly partying guests.  Sometimes, the innkeeper would find homeless on the edge of the LaQuinta premises, sleeping near the trash cans.

As for the lighting outside of the building where Mr. Satchwell had been given a room, there were 4×10 inch yellow lights situated between every two rooms.

During the trial, the hotel successfully moved for a directed verdict, which was affirmed on appeal.  The trial judge ruled there was not enough evidence to conclude as a matter of law that a reasonable person could say it was foreseeable that Mr. Satchwell would have been robbed and beaten that night.

So, Mr. Satchwell appealed the judge’s decision.  The reviewing court considered the evidence presented at trial and found the judge was right.

In this crime of assault and robbery of Mr. Satchwell, the key is if it was reasonably foreseeable that such an attack would occur in the absence of precautions. “If the criminal attack is not foreseeable, no duty arises.”  Hall v. Billy Jack’s, Inc.,458 So.2d 760, 761 (Fla. 1984)

LaQuinta is a motel operator. Under Florida law it is under a continuing legal duty to its guests, as business invitees, to use ordinary care to keep the motel premises in a reasonably safe condition and protect the guests from harm due to reasonably foreseeable risks of injury.

It was Mr. Satchwell’s duty as the party plaintiff to show with admissible evidence that he was within the zone of risks that are reasonably foreseeable by the defendant.  Measures to be undertaken to deter crime generally “cannot reasonably be expected to prevent all crime or any one specific criminal act.” Reichenbach v. Days Inn of America, Inc., 401 So.2d 1366, 1368 (Fla. 5th DCA 1981), review denied, 412 So.2d 469 (Fla. 1982).

Factors to be considered in proving foreseeability include: (1) industry standards, (2) community crime rate, (3) extent of assaults or criminal activity in the area or in similar business enterprises, and (4) the presence of suspicious persons and the peculiar security problems posed by the premises design.

The basic underlying facts were undisputed.  The critical question is whether LaQuinta knew or should have known, in light of all the attendant circumstances, that the risk of assault and robbery upon a guest would be unreasonably high without the motel taking security precautions against it.

There was little, if any, evidence to make this showing.  The only evidence provided was the stolen car two months prior to the attack on Mr. Satchwell.  There was no evidence of any significant criminal activity against motel guests at the LaQuinta or within a five mile radius.  No expert took the stand to give an opinion on the risks of crime in the area or at the location.

Furthermore, there was no evidence that LaQuinta had violated any generally accepted industry standards; that the design of motel posed peculiar security problems; or that suspicious persons had been present on the premises of appellee on prior occasions.

Without sufficient evidence to prove the foreseeability element, the decision to grant LaQuinta’s motion for a directed verdict was affirmed.

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