Staying at a hotel or resort on vacation or for business should be a pleasant experience. Unfortunately, hotel accidents and injuries sometimes occur. Slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall accidents, gym or pool injuries, and escalator / elevator accidents are not uncommon. If you’re in Virginia on vacation or as a business visitor, and you suffer injuries in your hotel, who is responsible for your medical expenses and other losses you might suffer?
When an accident or injury occurs in a hotel or other business offering accommodations, the law of the state where the premises are located determines whether the hotel is responsible. Virginia premises liability law will apply to injuries received at hotels and resorts in the state, even if you live in a different state.
Virginia Hotels and Resorts Owe a Legal Duty to Guests
Businesses offering accommodations invite you to stay as a guest. The law considers you to be on the premises as an invitee. Because you stay at their premises by invitation, hotels and resorts owe you a higher duty of care.
Virginia law specifically requires owners of hotels to “take reasonable precautions to protect the persons and property of guests.” A “hotel” includes “any place offering to the public for compensation transitory lodging or sleeping accommodations, overnight or otherwise, including but not limited to … hotels, motels, travel lodges, tourist homes, or hostels.”
Under that law and Virginia’s personal injury law, a hotel has a duty to use reasonable care to maintain the premises in reasonably safe condition. That includes the duty to warn guests of any hidden or non-obvious dangers, like slippery floors or stairs. There is a limitation: The duty does not include an obligation to warn of dangers that are obvious or reasonably apparent.
To hold the hotel responsible, management must have notice of an unsafe condition. The notice requirement is met if the unsafe condition existed long enough for the hotel to discover it in the exercise of ordinary care.
The Virginia law also requires hotels to exercise due care and diligence in providing honest and competent employees. A hotel may be legally liable if a guest’s injuries are caused by an incompetent or dishonest employee of the hotel. Among other things, that means employees like pool and exercise room staff must be trained to prevent injuries to guests.
Other examples of the duty of a place of accommodation are: providing adequate lighting, maintaining stairways and elevators, controlling insect infestation, and maintaining proper security, including locks on doors and windows.
In general, hotels are not responsible for warning or protecting guests against criminal acts by third parties, except under limited circumstances. The specific facts in each individual case determine whether there is a duty to warn.
What To Do If You Are Injured at a Virginia Resort or Hotel
Premises liability is based on the legal theory of negligence: Breach of the hotel’s duty constitutes negligence. A requirement of recovering damages for negligence is that the negligence caused an injury. The mere existence of an unsafe condition is not sufficient. But, if the hotel’s legal duty to keep you safe is breached, and you are injured as a result of that breach, you are entitled to recover for your injuries.
When you are injured at a hotel or other accommodation, the first and most important step is getting prompt and proper medical treatment. If you delay getting treatment, such as waiting until you get home, you could make your injuries or condition worse.
After your medical needs are addressed, you—or your family or friends—should do what you can to document your accident and preserve evidence, such as:
- Taking photos of where the accident happened
- Getting the full names, addresses, and phone numbers of any witnesses, including employees and hotel guests
- Saving physical evidence related to the accident: For example, in a slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall accident, keep relevant articles of clothing like your shoes.
You also should make a formal report to hotel management to notify them of the accident. But you should not sign any statements relating to the circumstances surrounding the accident. Provide only factual information about the date, time, and place of the accident or injury.
When Should You Talk with an Attorney about a Virginia Hotel Accident?
If your injuries appear to be serious, requiring extensive or extended medical treatment, it is in your best interest to talk with an attorney before you do anything else—including talking with the hotel’s insurance company adjuster.
An insurance adjuster is likely to contact you soon after your accident. The adjuster’s goal will be to settle your claim for the smallest possible amount. You should not give any information other than your name and contact information. Most importantly, you should not make or sign any statements about your accident or injuries. You can advise the adjuster that you will be consulting an attorney, and that your attorney will be in touch.
Virginia law applies to hotel accidents occurring in the state. Retaining a local attorney who practices near the location of the hotel is advisable. If you live in another state and contact a non-Virginia attorney where you live, he or she is likely to want to find a personal injury lawyer where the hotel is located.
A local Virginia attorney is in a better position to visit and assess the scene of the accident and interview employees at the hotel about the accident. If your case ends up going to court, the attorney will know the local court practices and procedures that apply. Having a local attorney does not mean that you will have to return frequently to the place where your accident occurred. Unless a case ends up going to court, most of the investigation and the insurance negotiations can be handled by telephone.
Jeff Brooke is a personal injury attorney devoted to helping individuals who have suffered serious and catastrophic injuries or lost a loved one as a result of someone else’s negligent and careless actions. The Jeff Brooke Team serves all of southeastern Virginia. The firm serves clients in the Greater Tidewater and Greater Hampton Roads areas, including in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Chesterfield. The Jeff Brooke Team also handles cases in northeastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks.