Unreasonable Eviction – Colorado Supreme Court Finds That Hotel Owed a Duty to Evicted Drunk Guests (CO)

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Westin Operator, LLC v. Groh (Colorado)

The issue raised by the case (an issue of first impression for the Supreme Court of Colorado) was: “What duty of care, if any, does a hotel owe to a guest during a lawful eviction?”

Following a late night out in downtown Denver, the plaintiff brought a group of friends back to a hotel room she had rented at the hotel operated by the defendant.  Thereafter, security guards from the hotel confronted the group about the noise level coming from their room, and the hotel eventually evicted them from the premises.  Plaintiff and her group were evicted “even though [they] advised the guards that they were drunk and could not drive.”  One of the members of the party asked if he could stay in the lobby to wait for a taxicab because it was cold outside, but the security guarded refused.  Plaintiff and six others got into plaintiff’s car, with a drunk driver behind the wheel.  Fifteen miles later, the car rear-ended another car.  The resulting crash killed a third party and left the plaintiff in a persistent vegetative state with traumatic brain injuries.

Plaintiff’s parents filed a negligence-based action on plaintiff’s behalf, seeking to hold the hotel liable for plaintiff’s injuries because of the manner in which security had evicted her.  The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment.  The trial court granted the motion, concluding that the defendant did not owe a duty of care to the plaintiff.  The trial court denied a motion for reconsideration, and the plaintiff appealed.  The Court of Appeals for Colorado initially affirmed the summary judgment, holding that the defendant “did not owe a duty of care to [plaintiff] because the innkeeper-guest special relationship terminated upon her eviction.”  The Court of Appeals also “declined to impose a duty under the assumed duty of care doctrine because the [defendant] did not undertake to provide a service that was reasonable calculated to prevent the type of harm that befell [plaintiff] and did not place her at an increased risk.”

Plaintiff filed a petition for rehearing, which was granted by the Court of Appeals.  By the time of the rehearing, one of the judges retired and was replaced, changing the composition of the Court.  The revised panel withdrew its first opinion and reversed the summary judgment order with respect to the negligence-related claims.  In this second opinion, the majority held that “a hotel must evict a guest in a reasonable manner, which precludes ejecting into foreseeably dangerous circumstances resulting from either the guests’s conditions or the environment.”  The Colorado Supreme Court then granted certiorari review.

The Colorado Supreme Court ultimately agreed with the Court of Appeals, concluding that “[b]ased  on the special relationship that exists between an innkeeper and guest,” the Court held “that a hotel that evicts a guest has a duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances.”  This would require “the hotel to refrain from evicting an intoxicated guest into a foreseeable dangerous environment.”  Determining whether there was a “foreseeably dangerous environment” would depend “on the guests’s physical state and the conditions into which he or she was evicted, including the time, the surroundings, and the weather.”

The Supreme Court also held that the Colorado Dram Shop Act (a statute that can be used to establish liability against establishments for serving alcohol to visibly intoxicated persons or minors) did not apply to the case because the defendant did not serve alcohol to the plaintiff.

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