When a hotel’s recommendation goes horribly wrong: Travel Weekly

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Christine Hitt In a common scenario, guests often ask hotel employees for suggestions, such as where to eat, what to see and what beach to spend the day. But does that mean a hotel is liable should something happen at a recommended place?  A court was asked to decide just […]

Christine Hitt

Christine Hitt

In a common scenario, guests often ask hotel employees for suggestions, such as where to eat, what to see and what beach to spend the day. But does that mean a hotel is liable should something happen at a recommended place? 

A court was asked to decide just that in a recent Hawaii case, when a man sued a Maui resort over an employee’s beach recommendation. The guest drove to the state beach park, where “dangerous shorebreak” warning signs were posted, went into the water and was struck by a wave, resulting in paralysis. 

Though the beach was more than 3 miles away from the resort, the man argued that the resort had an “enhanced duty to warn its guests of foreseeable dangers regardless of geographic location.” The resort, on the other hand, argued that it had no affiliation with the beach and pointed out that there were shorebreak warning signs present at the time of his visit.

Ultimately, the court ruled that the hotel wasn’t liable, since it “had no general duty to warn guests of dangers well beyond” the property and the hotel employee “made no representations or guarantees concerning safety.”

“First and foremost, hotel owners and operators, and at its peak the 110,000 member employees of American Hotel & Lodging Association’s membership in Hawaii, work to promote safety on-site and to curate experiences on and near our properties for our guests,” said Kekoa McClellan, speaking on behalf of the Hawaii Hotel Alliance. “It is challenging for industry safety professionals and those working in and around our hotels to manage safety outside of our kuleana (responsibility).

“There’s only so much we can do,” he continued. “Obviously we can’t take responsibility for where our guests go when they leave our properties; we can’t take responsibilities for their actions. But we can curate a strong message that the world needs to hear: Hawaii is open, but come and be aware, come and be respectful. Being respectful is as much about respecting the people and the place that you’re staying in as it is about the amazing natural landscape that has been gifted to us to enjoy. It is not risk-free.”

Though unusual, this wasn’t the first case in which a hotel was sued for a beach injury. Court documents list at least one incident where a hotel was ruled against, showing that specific circumstances really make a big difference in the outcome. 

“Our counties do a fantastic job of promoting ocean safety, and individual hotels and organizations that represent the visitor industry have partnered with our counties and with our state on ocean safety for decades,” said McClellan. “We continue to promote these partnerships. We continue to promote awareness of the extreme nature of our beautiful ocean playground.”

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