A young child fell out of a second story window at a beachfront hotel, suffering serious injuries. The parents sued. The hotel moved for summary judgment, claiming that the parents’ negligence overrode any obligation on the part of the hotel and that the hotel had no duty to install a fall prevention device.
The trial court granted summary judgment to the hotel, from which the parents appealed.
The Court of Appeals reversed. The parents’ negligence, if any, would impact the proportion of blame that the hotel might have, not whether the hotel had any duty to the injured child.
The issue of duty is a question of law suitable for summary judgment. The factors to determine whether a duty exists, however, are more subtle than whether the window met the applicable building code.
In Lawrence, The parents requested a first floor room when they made their reservation, but only second room floors were available on check-in. The window through which the child fell had a screen, but it was not sufficient to restrain the child.
The court recognized that a determination of “the scope of foreseeable perils to children must take into consideration the known propensity of children to intermeddle.” The opinion reviewed cases falling on either side of the argument, concluding that a hotel operator does not guarantee the safety of the guests, but has a duty of ordinary care to make the premises reasonably safe for their expected use; and that the hotel operator did not meet its burden to show that there was no duty, relying heavily on the presence of children.
Once the court concluded that a duty existed, it was a simple process to conclude that the myriad factual issues related to breach and causation warranted a reversal of summary judgment.
The duty analysis in the opinion was a challenge, since it confirmed that cases were split and that the involvement of children made it difficult to decide. Hotel owners would probably prefer a clearer rule on when a duty does exist, rather than when it might. This clarity, however, may not arrive unless the California Supreme Court has a chance to weigh in on this opinion.