In June, a Texas jury awarded $41.55 million in damages to the family of a woman who was fatally stabbed at a hotel. According to the facts of the case, the victim, Kari Hunt Dunn, was fatally stabbed by her husband at the Baymont Inn & Suites in Marshall Texas in December of 2013.
This wrongful death case and trial, while the result of a terrible tragedy, were closely followed for the unique legal issues involved. As court records indicate, the 31-year-old victim had been stabbed by her estranged husband at the hotel. Following the attack, the couple’s 9-year-old daughter attempted to call 911 four times, but did not realize that she had to first dial “9” in order to reach an outside line. The daughter also gestured to two employees of the hotel that she needed help, but neither responded to her or alerted the general manager of the emergency.
A lawsuit filed by Kari’s father named both her husband and the hotel owner, OM Lodging LLC, as defendants in the case. While the husband was sued because of his intentional infliction of harm, the hotel owner was named as a defendant because the family alleged it was negligent and that it failed to adequately train employees on how to properly respond to emergencies. As claimed in the suit, Kari would have had a substantial chance of surviving had she received emergency treatment sooner, but died in part because the hotel owner failed to uphold its obligation to reasonably render aid.
At the end of trial, the jury determined that both parties were at fault for Kari’s death, and assigned 80% fault to Kari’s husband, and 20% to OM Lodging. In addition to the positive outcome for the family, the case has inspired efforts to address difficulties with dialing 911 from businesses like hotels, where guests often have to “dial out” in order to reach parties outside of the business. Those efforts led to Texas passing “Kari’s Law,” which was also signed into federal law by President Donald Trump in February. The law requires businesses to allow for direct access to 911 so as to avoid similar situations.
Liability in Emergency Situations
Kari’s death was a tremendous tragedy for her family, but it has helped enact important legislation to prevent similar difficulties from causing harm to victims in the future. It also provides an important reminder that hotels and businesses have legal obligations when it comes to keeping visitors and guests safe from preventable harm, especially in emergency situations.
Based on laws and legal concepts such as premises liability, property and business owners have legal duties to take reasonable measures that ensure the safety of guests. This can include any number of measures that would protect guests from harm that could and should be prevented, such as:
- Addressing potential hazards on their property they knew or should have known about;
- Fixing holes, slippery surfaces, and other dangerous conditions that may foreseeably result in slip, trip, or fall accidents;
- Ensuring adequate security to prevent guests from suffering harm in third party assaults, such as assaults at nightclubs where confrontations between guests are common;
- Taking steps to ensure adequate supervision and safe conditions near pools to avoid drowning accidents;
In addition to taking measures such as these, hotels and other businesses also need to ensure adequate safety policies and properly train their employees when it comes to emergencies. Doing so, as was shown in Kari’s case, could very well mean the difference between life and death – and failing to do so may result in liability, as least in part, for failing to uphold legal duties and prevent victims from suffering further harm.
At Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., our legal team has handled many challenging cases involving complex issues of liability, including cases involving premises liability and the legal obligations of businesses that owe a duty of care to their guests. If you have questions about premises liability or a potential personal injury or wrongful death claim, please do not hesitate to contact us for a free and confidential consultation. We proudly serve clients throughout Washington, DC, Virginia, and Maryland.