The owners of properties like hotels, retail stores, and office buildings generally owe visitors a duty to make them aware of any safety hazards of which the owner knows or should know and to take reasonable steps to limit the associated risks. In a recent case, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia explained how negligence law applies to a hotel owner in claims by a guest who was injured on the premises.
Ms. McNeilly was staying at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs when she slipped, fell, and hit her head on a marble floor while trying to use the shower in her room. She said the bathroom wasn’t equipped with a bath mat and didn’t have rubber strips lining the tub. She also said that she’d tried to grab a metal hand bar when she started to fall, but she wasn’t able to hold on because it was wet. After being treated at a nearby emergency room, McNeilly said she returned to her room and inspected the tub. According to McNeilly, she noticed that the tub was covered with cleaning product residue that she believes may have contributed to the accident.
McNeilly sued the hotel for negligence, saying that it failed to maintain the shower area in a reasonably safe condition. In support of her claim, she presented the opinion of an accident expert who determined that similar incidents “were not only foreseeable, but predictable and more likely than not had happened prior to the plaintiff’s fall.” She also presented the testimony of former Greenbrier housekeeping supervisor Ronald Napier. Napier said that a new housekeeping director made a number of changes when he took the job, including ending the practice of supplying rubber mats in all bathrooms and switching to less expensive cleaning chemicals.
The hotel said log books showed that a cleaning staff supervisor had inspected the tub in the morning before the accident. It also argued that the bottom surface of the tub was textured with an abrasive rectangular inlay extending to about three inches from the drain. McNeilly’s expert, however, said that whatever etching remained on the tub in which the accident took place was 6 or more inches from the drain. This was significant because McNeilly said she slipped while stepping toward the drain. Napier also said that the non-slip etchings in many rooms were “very old” and became as smooth as the rest of the tub over time.
Rejecting the Greenbrier’s motion to dismiss the case, the District Court said McNeilly provided enough evidence for the matter to go to trial. “In order to establish a negligence claim in West Virginia, a plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant owed a legal duty to the plaintiff and that by breaching that duty the defendant proximately caused the injuries of the plaintiff,” the Court explained.
In this case, the Court said the Greenbrier owed McNeilly a duty to protect her from foreseeable dangers related to a slippery bath tub or shower floor by providing certain safety enhancements like a handrail, a non-slip strip, and a bath mat. The evidence appeared to show that the hotel didn’t take those precautions, but the Court said that was a question for jurors to decide. “Whether the measures taken by the Greenbrier suffice to meet the reasonable care standard is a question for the jury and cannot be decided by this Court at this stage,” the Court concluded.
If you or a loved one has been injured an accident, the Wolfe Law Firm can help. Our West Virginia premises liability lawyers have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm represents clients in a wide range of injury, criminal defense, and bankruptcy matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.
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