A Capehart Scatchard Blog

Hotel Found Not Liable for Assault by Third Party Against Guests

By on April 7, 2017 in Liability with 0 Comments

Plaintiffs Ikeem Higgins, Richard Hoyte, and Cordero Russell were attending “Caribbean Night” at the Holiday Inn in Edison on July 11, 2010. At about 3 AM, they were standing outside the hotel, when an unidentified masked gunman approached them and shot them in the legs. In Higgins v. Holiday Inn & Conf. Ctr., 2017 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 857 (App. Div. April 4, 2017), the plaintiffs sued the Holiday Inn for their injuries, claiming that the Inn was negligent in failing to provide security for the event.

Discovery revealed no prior shootings at the Holiday Inn. A search of police records did show some criminal activity in the 2 years prior to this incident of varying types such as a fight, an assault in a hotel room with no injuries, a non-violent theft in the parking lot, an unarmed robbery of a handbag, a rape, and a prostitution call relating to a police sting operation.

At the end of discovery, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion because it found no facts which could have put the hotel on notice that Caribbean Night could produce criminal activity. There had been 19 prior Caribbean Nights with no incidents.

The plaintiffs appealed, arguing that “the prior criminal activity at the Inn, the late hour, and the festive environment of the Caribbean Night event should have caused defendant to anticipate loitering, under-age drinking, drugs and fights.” Hence, plaintiffs argued that considering these circumstances, it imposed upon the defendant a heightened duty to take precautions against criminal acts of third parties, including the shooting that they suffered. Plaintiffs claim that the defendant should have consulted security personnel or the Edison Police Department prior to the incident.

The Appellate Division pointed out that whether a defendant owes a legal duty to exercise care to avoid a risk of harm involves considerations of fairness and public policy. An owner can be liable for an injury caused by a third party depending on the totality of the circumstances. The Court must consider fairness considerations for imposing a duty, the foreseeability of third party conduct, and whether the premises owner exercised reasonable care under the circumstances.

Here, this incident appeared to be a random act of violence. During the 19 prior Caribbean Nights, there were no criminal incidents. And, for the 10 years previous, there were no shootings at the Holiday Inn. While there was some criminal activity the two prior years, the Court did not find it so alarming or escalating that it would have been “reasonably predictive” that attendees at the event could be harmed by a shooting.

The bottom line for the Appellate Division was that there was not sufficient, credible evidence to support that the defendant should have foreseen what occurred. Accordingly, the Court found in the absence of reasonable foreseeability and comporting with the concepts of fairness and sound public policy, it held that the defendant neither owed, nor breached any duty to plaintiffs. Thus, it affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

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About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

For the years 2020 and 2021, Ms. Ramos was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in the practice area of Litigation - Insurance. The attorneys on this list are selected based upon the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area. A complete description of The Best Lawyers in America© methodology can be viewed via their website at: https://www.bestlawyers.com/methodology.

In 2021, Capehart Scatchard and Ms. Ramos received the “Best Law Firm” ranking in the area of Litigation – Insurance (Metro, Tier 3) published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers®. Law firms included on the list are recognized for professional excellence with consistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have at least one attorney who has been included in the current edition of Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top five percent of practicing lawyers in the United States. Betsy Ramos (Litigation – Insurance) was recognized for this prestigious award in the 2021 edition. For a description of the “Best Law Firm” selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

“Best Law Firms” is published by Best Lawyers in partnership with U.S. News & World Report. For a description of the selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

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