|By Michele Morgan Bolton, Albany Times
Union, N.Y.McClatchy-Tribune Business News
Jan. 3, 2006 - ALBANY -- A federal judge has put the hospitality industry on notice about the rights of welcome -- and not-so-welcome -- guests, ruling that a Latham man may sue the Times Square hotel that evicted him when he was drunk on New Year's Eve 2004, hours before he was in a near-fatal car crash.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence E. Kahn's decision allows Jeffrey Dagen to seek $750,000 in damages from the Marriott Marquis Hotel for failing to provide a safe haven.
Two years ago, Dagen, 42, and his friends were forcibly removed from their rooms minutes before midnight after a woman, who was drinking heavily, passed out in a hallway.
In court papers, hotel officials said the boisterous bunch was removed from the premises after the woman got into an altercation with another member of the party. Dagen says that didn't happen.
He said he had shelled out $4,000 for two rooms for two days and was then bounced by police, even though hotel staff knew he'd been drinking for hours, lived 165 miles upstate and had little chance of finding anywhere else to stay on such a festive night.
Two hours later, after driving north on the Taconic Parkway, Dagen hit a tree about 40 miles from Albany.
He was trapped in the wreckage for three hours with chest wounds and a leg so badly shattered that a doctor was en route from Albany Medical Center Hospital to amputate when rescue workers finally freed him.
Marriott officials insist Dagen made a decision to drive home that night. They say they were under no obligation to protect him from himself.
Kahn disagreed. "Common sense and common courtesy hold that innkeepers are expected to shelter those who have sought their protection, and not to inject those people into obviously dangerous situations."
Marriott International Inc. ranks third in the top 50 hotel companies in the world, with 476,118 rooms in 2,648 properties.
Hotel industry representatives were reluctant to weigh in on the decision, which could affect future liability for all hotels and motels.
Dan Murphy, president of the New York State Hospitality and Tourism Association, said he suspected the Dagen case was isolated, but declined specific comment. As for whether the decision might affect how hotels conduct future business, he deferred to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, based in Washington.
A spokeswoman there did not return a call for comment.
As a repeat customer, Dagen, who owns a long-distance trucking company, said Tuesday he was surprised by the treatment he got.
"I'd been going there for years and I absolutely loved it," he said. "But never in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen to me. All they've wanted to do is brush me off. I was looking forward to partying with my friends and the next day I'm in Albany Med, almost dead."
Albany attorney Theresa Marangas, who represents Marriott Hotel Services Inc., did not return a call for comment. Dagen's lawyer, Richard Feirstein of Albany, said he realized immediately that the case could potentially expand the scope of liability for innkeepers.
"Attorneys for the hotel took a narrow view," Feirstein said. "But this is a Common Law case of negligence."
The hotel's treatment of its guests was also wrong, Feirstein believes, because Dagen did what society wanted him to do. "If you are going to celebrate New Year's Eve, get a hotel room, so you aren't drinking and driving," he said. "But here, the next thing he knows is he's out in the street."
The Marriott Marquis refused to refund Dagen's $4,000 and submitted a bill for the additional food and liquor that had been charged to the rooms.
Now that Kahn has ruled, the lawsuit will move toward trial.
Morgan Bolton can be reached at 434-2403 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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