Hotel Accidents and Injury Claims: How to Seek Compensation
Hotels are an oasis. We stay at hotels during vacations, when visiting friends and family, for business travel, and just to get away for a weekend. Travelers have access to over 5 million rooms in more than 52,000 hotels throughout the United States. Most hotel owners and staff try to create a pleasurable experience for all their guests. While guests usually have a wonderful stay at their favorite hotel, accidents can happen any time. Hotel owners are responsible for your injuries if you’re hurt because of their negligence. You have the right to expect fair injury compensation from the hotel or their insurance company.
Common Hotel Accidents and Injuries
Paying hotel guests expect to enjoy a safe and clean environment in their rooms and other areas of the facility. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Some of the most common causes of hotel injuries are:
• Slip and fall accidents: Broken bones, head injuries, and severe sprains are often the result of slip and fall accidents in hotels. Worn carpeting, uneven flooring, icy walks, spilled beverages, and a variety of other hazards can cause a guest to stumble and fall.
• Broken furniture: Many hotels save money by making in-house repairs to furniture, which breaks down from overuse. Some furniture is just too old. It’s only a matter of time before a customer’s weight is enough to make a chair collapse with the guest in it, resulting in injury.
• Swimming pools: Most hotels aren’t required to have lifeguards on duty. However, the hotel is required to post warnings and rules, and to keep the pool, locker room, and jacuzzi areas clean and safe. Safety includes diligent pool and tub management to ensure proper temperatures and chemical balance.
• Food poisoning: Hotels with restaurants and food service must maintain high food safety standards. Unsanitary kitchen conditions, employees with unclean hands, and improper food handling can all lead to serious foodborne illnesses.
• Bed bugs: Bed bugs are very small insects that can infest hotel mattresses, pillows, furniture, and even light switches. They are hard to see and very difficult to eradicate. Contact with bedbugs can cause itching and other skin irritation, infections and sometimes severe allergic reactions. The guest can unwittingly carry them home in clothes and suitcases.
• Burns: Guests may be scalded by extremely hot tap water from showers or sinks. Guests may also suffer burns from defective in-room appliances like irons, coffee makers, and hair dryers.
• Criminal activity: The hotel must take reasonable steps to ensure guest safety. The hotel may be responsible for assault, robbery or theft when the hotel failed to provide adequate security or lighting, failed to maintain door locks and windows to prevent unauthorized entry, or was otherwise negligent.
Your Legal Rights in a Hotel
Your rights to safety and security at a hotel aren’t limited to your room. The hotel’s obligation to protect guests extends to private and common areas including:
• Shuttle bus
• Parking lot
• Meeting and banquet halls
• Swimming pools
• Public restrooms
• Fitness areas
Laws can vary from state-to-state, but wherever you’re staying, the hotel always has an obligation to take reasonable steps to make their premises safe and to prevent foreseeable accidents. A foreseeable accident is one that a sensible hotel manager knows or should know could happen under the circumstances. After an overnight ice storm, the manager knows the hotel sidewalks will be slippery if left untreated. Negligence happens when hotel management, or an employee, fails to act responsibly or does something no reasonable person would do. Damages for personal injuries include medical costs, out-of-pocket medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Property damages can include the replacement cost of ruined or lost clothes, jewelry, luggage, or other items. Although a hotel has a legal duty of care to protect you from harm, it doesn’t extend to all harm. The duty is to protect you from harm that could reasonably happen. Icy walkways are a foreseeable danger for guests falling and getting injured. If the manager fails to have the walkways treated promptly, the failure is a breach of the hotel’s duty of care. If a guest is injured by falling on the ice, the hotel is responsible. On the other hand, when the hotel has taken reasonable steps to clear the walkways, and an intoxicated guest falls and cracks his skull on his way to the entrance, the hotel will likely not be liable. The hotel cannot foresee or prevent the arrival of an intoxicated guest. Hotel management must protect guests from reasonably foreseeable incidents that might harm them. It isn’t reasonable to have to protect a guest from injuries caused by the guest’s voluntary intoxication.
How to Prove Your Injury Claim
What happens when the hotel breaches its duty of care and you’re injured? The insurance company won’t just write you a settlement check. Before you can succeed in a personal injury claim against the hotel, you’ll have to prove the hotel is liable for your injuries. In legal jargon, that means you have the burden of proof. It’s up to you, or your attorney, to gather enough evidence to show:
• The hotel had a duty of care to protect you from harm.
• The hotel breached its duty by permitting you to be injured.
• Your injury resulted in specific and identifiable damages.
Begin collecting valuable evidence from the moment you’re injured:
• Ask for the manager: You’ve heard the expression “Time is of the essence.” When it comes to hotel injuries, this is especially true. As soon as possible, you must link your injury to the event that caused it. The more time that passes before reporting your injury, the harder it will be to build a believable claim. For example, if you are cut by a protruding nail in your room, you should call the manager before you leave the room. Unless you’re very seriously injured, don’t leave your room until the manager arrives. Write down the manager’s name, title and contact information. Ask for the name and phone number for the hotel’s insurance company, and tell the manager you’d like a copy of the incident report written about your injury. Rather than give you the insurance company information, you may be told that someone from the hotel’s corporate office will be in touch with you.
• Prompt medical attention: If your injuries are serious, ask someone to call 911. If you aren’t taken by ambulance to the emergency room, you’ll need to have a medical evaluation right away. If you’re away from your primary care providers, ask hotel management to help you get to the nearest emergency room or urgent care center. Refusing or delaying medical treatment can seriously undermine your injury claim. Wherever you are treated, be sure to tell the medical provider when, where, and how you were injured.
• Talk to witnesses: Witness statements are building blocks in your injury claim. The more you have, the stronger your claim will be. Family and friend witness statements are helpful, although independent witness statements are best. Independent witnesses have no personal or financial interest in your claim, so the insurance company gives more weight to their testimony.
• Take pictures and video: Use your smartphone or another device to photograph and video the cause of your injury and the injury itself. The audio can record witness statements, employee admissions, and your version of the events leading to your injury.
• Proof of damages: To complete your burden of proof in a hotel injury claim requires evidence of damages. If you don’t have any expenses related to your injury, then you don’t have a claim. You’ll need copies of your medical bills and records, and receipts for prescriptions, bandages, and transportation expenses. It would help if you also had written verification of your lost wages. Ask your employer for a written statement itemizing wages you’ve lost, missed bonuses, and any vacation or sick days you used.
Maximizing Your Compensation
If you’ve fully recovered from relatively minor injuries like scratches, bruises, small cuts, or sprained muscles, you can probably negotiate a fair settlement directly with the insurance company, without hiring an attorney. You can figure out a fair compensation amount by totaling the cost of your medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, the value of ruined clothing or other personal items, and any lost wages. Add one or two times that amount for emotional distress. Send a written demand with copies of your medical bills and records, receipts, and other evidence.
Workers Compensation Benefits
A workers compensation policy affords benefits to injured employees as prescribed by the applicable state law. Virtually all states provide four types of benefits: medical coverage, disability benefits, rehabilitation, and death benefits. While the kinds of benefits injured workers receive are fairly consistent across the country, the amount of benefits provided and the manner in which they are delivered varies from state to state.
Most injured employees who file workers compensation claims receive medical coverage. This coverage pays the cost of treating workers for an occupational illness or injury. It includes fees charged for doctor visits, hospital treatment, nursing care, medications, medical diagnostic tests, physical therapy, and durable medical equipment (like crutches and wheelchairs). Medical coverage isn’t normally subject to dollar limits, deductibles or copays. Benefits are provided until the worker has fully recovered from the injury. However, state laws may impose restrictions on some types of treatments. For instance, the law may allow a maximum of say, 24 visits for physical therapy or chiropractic care. State laws also dictate whether so-called alternative treatments, like biofeedback or massage therapy, are covered. A treatment covered in one state may not be covered in another. In many states, providers are reimbursed for medical services based on a fee schedule. The schedule lists the most a provider will receive for each type of treatment.
Many states allow employers or their workers compensation insurers to provide benefits under a managed care plan. A few states require insurers to offer employers such a plan. The laws governing managed care plans vary widely. Most plans have one or more of the following features:
Provider Network: A group of doctors and other healthcare providers who have contracted with an insurer or employer to provide medical services at a discount. The providers are (or should be) skilled in occupational medicine. Some states require injured workers to seek treatment from providers within the network.
Utilization Management: A process designed to ensure that the type of medical care afforded to workers is necessary, appropriate, and cost-effective. Providers may be required to obtain pre-approval before performing certain medical procedures.
Pharmacy Benefit Manager: An administrator of a prescription drug program whose purpose is to control costs. A PBM establishes formularies, negotiates discounts with drug manufacturers, contracts with pharmacies, and pays prescription drug claims.
Medical Care Management: Overseeing care to ensure injured workers receive appropriate treatment so they can return to work as soon as possible.
Disability benefits are intended to replace a portion of the wages an employee loses while he or she is disabled due to a work-related injury. Each disability is classified into one of four categories:
Temporary Total: The worker is completely disabled by the injury and is unable to work for a short period of time. For example, a worker injures her back and is unable to perform any work for six weeks. She returns to full duties after a six-week disability.
Temporary Partial: The worker is only partly disabled by a short-term injury. For example, an employee breaks his arm on the job and subsequently works part-time while his arm heals.
Permanent Total: The worker has sustained a permanent injury that cannot be cured. As a result, the worker cannot earn future income by performing the type of work he was doing when the injury occurred.
Permanent Partial: The worker has sustained a permanent injury, such as hearing loss, that prevents him from earning as much income as he earned prior to his injury.
The amount workers receive for a disability varies widely from state to state. If two workers sustain similar injuries but reside in different states, one may receive considerably more in disability payments than the other. The amount a worker receives in state benefits depends on the nature of the disability. Benefits are usually calculated based on average weekly wage (the worker’s average weekly pay before the injury occurred). The calculated amount may be subject to minimum and maximum thresholds. No benefits are provided unless the disability extends beyond a specified waiting period (often seven days).
Temporary Total: Benefits are paid during the period of disablement. They are usually based on a percentage (such as 66 2/3) of the worker’s average weekly wage. For instance, a worker who normally earns $1,000 per week is disabled for two months by a broken leg. He receives $667 each week for the eight-week period.
Temporary Partial: A worker generally receives his reduced pay (for work he or she can perform) plus a percentage of the difference between the worker’s normal pay and his or her reduced pay. For example, a worker cannot perform his usual job, which requires standing, due to a leg injury. He normally earns $1,000 per week. He performs clerical work for two months while his leg heals. That work pays only $500 per week. The difference between his normal pay and his current pay is $500 per week. During his two-month disability, he earns $500 plus $333 (66 2/3% of $500) or $833 per week.
Permanent Total: A worker who is permanently and totally disabled typically receives 66 2/3 (or some other specified percentage) of his average weekly wage for the remainder of his life. In some states, benefits terminate when the worker reaches the official retirement age.
Permanent Partial: Some states divide permanent partial disabilities into two categories: schedule and non-schedule. Schedule injuries involve a particular body part such as a finger, hand or eye. A worker who permanently injures a body part listed in the schedule is eligible for a specified number week of disability payments. For example, a worker who loses a finger may receive 45 weeks of disability pay based on 66 2/3 of his average weekly wage. If an employee has incurred a permanent partial injury not listed on a schedule, his or her disability benefits are calculated according to state law. Depending on the state, benefits may be based on the extent of the worker’s impairment, loss of earning capacity, loss of wages, or some other factor.
Most states provide some type of vocational rehabilitation to workers who are unable to return to their previous job due to an on-the-job injury. Some also provide psychological rehabilitation if a worker has suffered a work-related mental injury.
If an employee dies due to a work-related injury, death benefits are paid to the worker’s spouse, minor children, and other dependents. Burial costs are also covered.
Utah’s Workers’ Compensation Laws and Requirements
Knowing the laws and requirements surrounding workers’ compensation is essential to running a smooth operation. Utah has its own rules when it comes to workers’ compensation, and obtaining coverage when you have just one employee on the payroll is one of them. An independent insurance agent can help sort through all the facts when it comes to your state-specific laws. All agents have done their market research and are licensed to provide workers’ compensation coverage through multiple carriers to make sure you’re heading in the right direction.
When you need a hotel attorney in Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506