Authorities in Hurricane, West Virginia evacuated two motels after an inspector found that the two neighboring properties were susceptible to a carbon monoxide leak. The inspection of the American Inn and the Budget Inn motels took place following the tragic incident at the Holiday Inn Express on Corridor G, where a man from Rhode Island died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Most motels throughout West Virginia are being inspected as a result of the incident. There is also a bill pending in the House of Delegates (already passed by the Senate) requiring motels to install carbon monoxide detectors. Meanwhile, at the American Inn and Budget Inn motels, an inspector found that exhaust was leaking from a gas pipe connected to a water heater. In addition, pipes in a boiler room had holes due to rust, large enough to fit a “pretty good-sized finger” through.
Motel guests were also inspected for signs of carbon monoxide inhalation. Fortunately no one needed to be taken to the hospital. Yet even though the motels had no carbon monoxide readings, authorities evacuated them as a precaution. A sign was placed on the motels’ doors warning people not to enter.
Since then, the motels’ owner has sought to compensate guests and mechanics and electricians were working on fixing the violations. The current owner of the properties claimed that although he inherited the problems from the previous owner, he was determined to see everything fixed.
We at the Wolfe Law Firm support state and local efforts to ensure that all hotels and motels are safe — not just from carbon monoxide, but other common hazards that could harm a guest. Every hotel or motel owner owes a duty to guests to preserve their well being. Under tort law, visitors to a property can be one of three things: a trespasser, a licensee, or an invitee. A friend who comes over to watch television would not, strangely enough, be called an invitee — even if he or she were actually invited. Instead, he or she would be a licensee. A landowner has a duty to protect licensees by warning them of known hazards.
An invitee gets even greater protection. Invitees are guests who are on the property to conduct business, or guests who enter the property when it has been opened to the public (such as for an event, like a fair). A landowner must warn invitees not only of known hazards, but also of hazards that could be discovered with reasonable inspection. If an invitee is in peril on the property, a landowner assumes the duty of rescue. Because an owner’s duties are so much greater to an invitee, it is much easier to find an owner liable for an invitee’s injuries.
The guests at the American Inn and the Budget Inn were invitees. Therefore, had the property owner failed to warn them of a known carbon monoxide danger, and they became seriously ill or died, the property owner would be liable. A West Virginia premise liability attorney would be able to prove that the property owner violated his or her duty, and the likely result would be a sizeable money award for those who suffered.