Thetford v. City of Clanton, et al. (Supreme Court of AL, 1992)
RULE OF LAW: Innkeeper owes a duty to his guest to protect against third-party criminal acts if the act was foreseeable, shown by substantial evidence.
FACTS: Shirley Ann Banks (P) checked into a hotel (D), telling the clerk that she was hiding from her abusive husband. She requested that the front desk to not tell anybody that she was there and to not let her husband enter her room. P showed signs of physical abuse. Her husband came to the hotel and P admitted him to her room. After her husband left her room, she locked her door via the chain on the door. Her husband asked the front desk manager to let him into the room, claiming his wife was "sick or crazy." The manager, with the police officer present, cut the chain to the door, allowing the husband to enter the room. At this point, the husband stated that he was going to kill Shirley Ann, later claiming he didn't really mean that. He convinced Shirley Ann that he would take her to her mothers' house. Later that night her husband fatally beat her at another hotel. P is suing for damages.
With regard to the police officer, the police officer initially called to investigate an act of family violence (prior to P's hotel check-in) did not file a report of the incident as required by law. The second police officer that was present for the cutting of the chain also did not file an incident report.
HISTORY: Trial court entered a judgment for the defendants (the city and the hotel). Plaintiff appealed.
ISSUE: Did the hotel manager owe a duty to his guest to protect her from a third party criminal act in her room? (Specifically, is D liable for wrongful or unauthorized entry?)
Was the police officer statutorily negligent for failing to file a family violence investigation report as required by law?
HOLDING: The court held that the hotel manager did not act reasonably and the third party criminal act was foreseeable (making the hospital owe a duty to the guest); the summary judgment for hotel defendants was reversed.
The court also affirmed the summary judgment for the city.
REASONING: As a general rule, an innkeeper is liable if he unjustifiably or unreasonably interferes with his guest's right to privacy and to the peaceful enjoyment of his room. The court further stated that an innkeeper does have a duty not to allow unregistered or unauthorized third parties to gain access to the rooms of its guests. The court determined that innkeepers owe an exercise of reasonable care for a guests' safety. Reasonable care depends on the circumstances in this case since it depends on the grade and quality of the accommodations that a hotel offers. A main component of this standard of care involves foreseeability. Because the innkeeper in this situation was expressly warned about the possibility of a violent crime occurring (showed by substantial evidence), he owed a duty to his guest. He can be, therefore, liable for not protecting his guest. It was also noted that the exact act doesn't have to be foreseeable, but rather a general harm or consequence is what must/should have been foreseeable.
Regarding the city, P would have had to prove 1) the statute (family violence act) was enacted to protect a class of persons in which P is categorized, 2) the injury that occurred was contemplated by the statute, 3) D violated the statute and 4) the statutory violation proximately caused the injury. In this case the court concluded that P couldn't prove the lack of written report proximately caused the injury; the act does not provide any resources to help the victims of this type of abuse. Since the elements can't be proven, a jury could not conclude that the city was negligent.
DISCUSSION: Dissenting opinion included an argument that the city did proximately cause P's injuries/death because the second officer didn't have any incident report, preventing him from doubting the husband's intentions and allowing the husband to enter the room and leave with Shirley Ann. Another dissenting opinion included an argument that the cutting of the chain was reasonable if the innkeeper thought P was sick; however, the innkeeper also should have re-secured her room, which he failed to do.