|By Julia L. Rider, September 2004
Since the specter of terrorist activity has risen in our collective consciousness--and the images of hurricanes Charley and Frances have swept across out television screens--hotel owners and operators worldwide are blowing the dust off of their disaster plans. Whether the cause is terrorists or hurricane, fire, flood, earthquake, or other disaster, the smart money knows that the best time to deal with an emergency is before it happens.
Maintain safe conditions. Keeping your premises safe can save lives. It can also help in defending against allegations of negligence should a disaster occur. Consider the lesson of the hotel that let dust and linen accumulate in linen chutes: when the accumulation caused an otherwise containable fire to spread and cause substantial damage, they were held liable. Liability check: In my states, failure to comply with fire or building and safety codes is considered negligent.
Test he alarm and emergency communications systems regularly. During an emergency, you must be able to alert your guests, deploy personnel, and summon emergency services quickly. Liability check: For example, checking to see how bad a fire is before calling the fire department may make fighting the fire more difficult and subject the hotel to liability.
Keep your emergency plan current. The evacuation guides on the back of hotel room doors do not constitute an “emergency plan.” Your plan should ensure that guests receive adequate warning of an emergency and provide for their effective evacuation. Your plan should provide for ongoing education to employees and for conducting periodic drills to ensure compliance with the plan. Employee training should reflect geographic realities: danger comes in the form of hurricanes in the Caribbean and Southeast, tsunamis in the Pacific Rim, tornados in the Midwest, and earthquakes in California. Liability check: Hotels may be held liable for losses caused by a disaster if they don’t have a plan, if the plan is inadequate, or if they fail to follow the plan.
When Disaster Strikes
Warn guests of the emergency. You have a duty to warn guests of an emergency: do not delay! Liability check: Hotels can be held liable for a failure to warn guests of an emergency or for an unduly delayed warning. You may not have to physically accompany guests out of the hotel, but you can be held liable if blocked exists or inadequate lighting in halls and stairwells impedes evacuation.
Call for medical assistance. Hotels have a legal obligation to call for medical assistance when a guest is seriously ill or suffers serious injury. Liability check: Unnecessary delays in summoning emergency help can subject the hotel to liability. Also keep in mind the hotel that provided a physician’s assistant to treat guests was held liable when the assistant prescribed the wrong medicine resulting in the death of the guest: be wary of providing your own medical care.
The Immediate Aftermath
If your hotel is safe, don’t raise the rates. If your hotel survives a disaster and other hotels in the vicinity do not survive, the market value of your safe hotel rooms will skyrocket. However, think twice before raising your rates. In Florida, Attorney General Charlie Crist has filed at least two civil complaints against hotels for alleged price gouging an deceptive and unfair trade practices of consumers seeking shelter from Hurricane Charley. Liability check: Hotels may be held liable for price gouging under state law and be ordered to refund the costs of rooms to customers. (In Florida, violators are subject to civil penalties that can total as much as $10,000 per violation in cases involving senior citizens or handicapped persons.) Hotels may also be held liable for deceptive business practices.
Demonstrate goodwill. If your hotel is no longer able to house
and provide services to guests after a disaster, it is unlikely you have
a legal obligation to find your guests other housing. Of course, in the
interest of customer relations and goodwill, providing as much service
as possible is the wisest course for those in the hospitality industry.
Julia J. Rider is a senior member of the Global Hospitality Group and a partner in the Litigation Department. She has represented hotels throughout her career in insurance, contract and construction disputes and in one of the largest mass disaster cases ever tried. She also specializes in insurance-related matters as they affect hotel properties. You may reach Julia at 310.201.3527 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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|Politics Over, New ‘Overtime’ Law Takes Effect; The Significant Changes / JMBM / September 2004|
|Hotel Franchise Agreements: Opportunities And Pitfalls / JMBM / September 2004|
|ADA Lawsuit Alert: Beware the Internet Surf-by; A new twist on the ADA drive-by lawsuit / JMBM / September 2004|
|Hotel Unions Challenging Work Rules Found in Hotel Employer / The Global Hospitality Advisor Handbooks; Claim Interference with Employees’ Rights to Organize / JMBM / October 2003|
|Wage and Hour Lawsuits and Audits Continue to Sweep the Hospitality Industry / The Global Hospitality Advisor / JMBM / October 2003|
|Prepare NOW for an ADA Attack; Myths and Tips on How to Minimize Exposure / The Global Hospitality Advisor / JMBM / October 2003|
|Sarbanes-Oxley Update / The Global Hospitality Advisor / JMBM / Arpil 2003|
|Equal Public Access or Access to Deep Pockets? The Hospitality Industry Remains a Target of Lawsuits by Disability Rights Groups Under the Americans with Disabilities Act / The Global Hospitality Advisor / JMBM / March 2003|
|Outlook 2003: A Roundtable Discussion / The Global Hospitality Advisor / JMBM / Dec 2002|
|Time Bomb Waiting to Explode: Wage & hour Claims Over Exempt Employees / The Global Hospitality Advisor / JMBM / Oct 2002|
|I'm Mad as Hell, and I'm Not Going to Take it Anymore! / The Global Hospitality Advisor / JMBM / Oct 2002|
|Settlement Procedure Available to California Hotels Plagued by Prop 65 Cases - The Global Hospitality Advisor / April 2002|
|Top Ten Investment Challenges Facing the Lodging Industry / Lodging Industry Investment Council / April 2002|
|Decertifying a Union? The Employer’s Bill of Rights / The Global Hospitality Advisor / JMBM / April 2002|
|Outlook 2002: A Roundtable Discussion / Bruce Baltin, Bjorn Hanson, Randy Smith, Jack Westergom - The Global Hospitality Advisor / January 2002|
|New Rules for Hotel Workouts: REMICs for Dummies / The Global Hospitality Advisor / JMBM / December 2001|
|Living in the Wake: Predictions & Practical Implications / The Global Hospitality Advisor / JMBM / December 2001|
|Avoiding Liability for Lay-Offs / The Global Hospitality Advisor / December 2001|
|The Worker Adustment and Retraining Notification Act: Impact on the Hotel Industry / JMBM|
|When is an Apartment a Hotel ... and Who Cares? / The Global Hospitality Advisor / JMBM / September 2001|
|The 'Perfect Storm' / The Global Hospitality Advisor / JMBM / September 2001|
|Richard Kessler's Grand Theme Hotels - Interview with GHG Chairman Jim Butler / March 2001|
|Stephen Rushmore's Industry Trends / Top Markets, Predictions & Opportunities / Jan 2001|
|Outlook 2001: A Roundtable Discussion The Global Hospitality Advisor / Jan 2001|
|Perspectives on Hotel Financing in 2001; Jim Butler, JMBM's Global Hospitality Group Chairman, Interviews Two Active Players in Hotel Finance / Jan 2001|
|Robert J. Morse: Millennium’s New President / Interview with GHG Chairman Jim Butler / Nov 2000|
|Special Reports / Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro LLP|