May 20, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Hotel Had No Duty to Detain Intoxicated Patron and Therefore Not Responsible for Subsequent Motor Vehicle Accident

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Groh v. Westin Operator LLC on Thursday, November 1, 2012.

Duty of Care—Innkeeper–Guest Relationship—Summary Judgment—Nonfeasance.

Plaintiff Jillian Groh appealed the trial court’s summary judgment in favor of defendant Westin Operator, LLC (Westin). The judgment was affirmed.

Groh and eleven of her friends spent an evening visiting bars in Denver and consuming alcohol. After the bars closed, the group gathered in a room of the Westin Hotel in downtown Denver, owned and operated by Westin. Groh had reserved the room in advance and was the only registered guest.

Around 2:45 a.m., a Westin security guard heard noises and investigated. He told Groh that she and the others needed to quiet down. Groh acquiesced, but the guard entered the room and told the others to be quiet, as well. Groh argued with him, claiming he wasn’t allowed to enter the room without her permission. The guard then re-entered the room and said everyone had to leave. Members of the group protested that the room had been rented so they could avoid having to drive after drinking.

Eventually, the manager was called. He determined that Groh could stay but that the others had to leave. Groh said that if her friends had to leave, she would leave too. For purposes of a summary judgment motion only, Westin conceded that Groh was evicted.

Several friends left and were not involved in the subsequent events. A little after 3:00 a.m., Groh and the remaining friends left the hotel. Groh called her brother and he advised her to take a taxi home. It was cold out, but the guard refused to let the party re-enter the Westin. Groh and the group then walked into a parking garage and, notwithstanding passing a taxi, one friend, Angela Reed, offered to drive. Groh gave her the keys to her PT Cruiser, which had five seatbelts. Seven people got it. Reed was the only one who used her seatbelt.

Around 4:00 a.m., on northbound I-225, Reed crashed into a slow-moving vehicle towing a vehicle with a flat tire. One passenger died; the others sustained injuries. Groh sustained severe injuries that left her in a persistent vegetative state. Reed’s blood alcohol content was estimated at between 0.170 and 0.222 at the time of the accident. She was charged with several felonies.

Groh, individually and by and through her guardians and conservators,brought negligence and breach of contract claims against the Westin. The district court granted summary judgment for the Westin. Groh appealed.

Groh argued that the Westin had a common law duty to protect her and prevent her from driving while intoxicated. Thus, the question was whether the Westin owed Groh a duty of care to take reasonable measures to protect her against the injury she sustained. Groh was injured as the result of riding as a passenger, without a seatbelt, in a vehicle driven by an intoxicated driver. In her fourth amended complaint, Groh contended the Westin had a duty to determine whether it was safe for her to drive home. The Court characterized this as a claim of nonfeasance on the part of the Westin.

The Colorado Supreme Court, in University of Denver v. Whitlock, 744 P.2d 54, 56 (Colo. 1987), analyzed the requirements of making out a claim of nonfeasance. Nonfeasance requires a special relationship, one of which is innkeeper to guest. However, once an individual ceases to be a guest of a hotel, the special relationship is terminated. Here, Groh was lawfully evicted because she breached her contract by having too many people stay in her room. Once evicted, the innkeeper–guest relationship terminated. Because there was no special relationship, there was no duty of care to take affirmative action to prevent the injury Groh sustained.

Groh also argued that the Westin was responsible under the assumed duty of care doctrine. Under this doctrine, “a party may assume duties of care by voluntarily undertaking to render service.” Here, the record did not contain evidence demonstrating that the scope of any such assumed duty would be so broad as to include preventing a former guest from being injured while riding as a passenger in a car driven by an intoxicated driver.

Finally, Groh argued it was error to rule that she breached her contract with the Westin, because the Westin waived any such claim when she was given three keys when she checked in. She cited no authority, and the Court found none, that would support such an argument. The summary judgment in favor of the Westin was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here.

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