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Illinois Appellate Court Reverses: Hotel Could Be Held Liable For Alleged Rape Of Guest By Hotel Employee

In Gress v. Lakhani Hospitality, Inc., 2018 IL App (1st) 170380, the First District Appellate Court found that the plaintiff alleged sufficient facts to establish a special relationship between a hotel guest and the hotel itself so that plaintiff could move forward in a premises liability action against the hotel for the alleged rape of one its guests by a hotel employee.

The Court began its analysis by examining the “touchstone of the duty analysis” to determine whether the plaintiff pled sufficient facts to establish that the hotel owed the guest a duty of care under the circumstances. The Court asked “whether the plaintiff and the defendant stood in such a relationship to one another that the law imposes on the defendant an obligation of reasonable conduct for the benefit of the plaintiff.” In short, the Court noted that “[w]hile generally speaking, the owner or possessor of property does not owe a duty to protect invitees from the criminal acts of third parties, however, a notable exception to this is if a special relationship exists between the parties, such as, in this case, an innkeeper and its guests, a common carrier and its passengers, a voluntary custodian and ward, or a business invitor and invitee.” Still, even if a special relationship exists, a duty will only attach if “defendant [] know[s] or should know of the unreasonable risk of injury.” In other words, “when one actor (like the hotel) takes charge of a third person (like a hotel employee) ‘whom he knows or should know’ would likely cause bodily harm to another (like [plaintiff]) if not controlled, that actor ‘is under a duty to exercise reasonable care to control the third person [like the employee] to prevent him from doing such harm.’” This is often referred to as the foreseeability element.

Thus, according to the Court, “[w]hether the rape in this case could have been reasonably anticipated by [the hotel] and its employees, and was thus foreseeable, forms the crux of the parties’ contentions on appeal.” In short, the Court found that “[i]n this case, at this early stage in the pleadings, foreseeability, or defendants’ quality of being able to reasonably anticipate the risk of physical harm, was satisfied by conferring on the parties their special relationship of hotel-guest. With that special relationship, according to Marshall v. Burger King, 222 Ill. 2d 422, 442 (2006), it was incumbent on defendants to show the existence of an exemption under the traditional four duty factors []. Given the pervasiveness of sexual assaults and generalized crimes in hotels, it is reasonably foreseeable that hotel guests will from time to time be at such risk in hotels.”

The key takeaway here is to ensure that a proper pre-litigation investigation has been completed so that a plaintiff can plead sufficient facts to establish that the defendant knew or should have known that the criminal act was foreseeable. A complaint at law is a critical step in any legal proceedings, and the failure to properly plead a case–by incorporating necessary facts–can render an otherwise viable cause of action, unwinnable. The attorneys at Goldstein Bender & Romanoff ensure that their clients enter any litigation with the best possible chance of success. Call us today for a free consultation.

A full copy of the Appellate Court opinion can be found at: http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/Opinions/AppellateCourt/2018/1stDistrict/1170380.pdf

 

— Ryan M. Griffin