Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Negligent Security at Hotel Leads to $5 Million Verdict

I have been asked to handle a number of negligent security cases dealing with bars and clubs in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area.  One interesting case that I stumbled upon in my research and preparation is Schickling v. Mark Wells and Allentown Interstate Motel Associates, et al.  This case concerned a horrific head injury sustained in a fight at a hotel due to negligent security measures.

On June 3, 2006, James Schickling was punched in the side of the head during a fight with co-defendant Mark Wells, at a Holiday Inn in Philadelphia. Schickling suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of the punch. After undergoing emergency surgery to relieve pressure and bleeding in the brain, Schickling was placed on life support. On June 5, 2006, after brain death was confirmed, Schickling was taken off life support and pronounced dead. The coroner determined that the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head.

On the evening of the fight, the Holiday Inn hosted two open-bar wedding receptions.  Schickling and Wells were guests. Multiple fights broke out over the course of the night.  But police were not called to the scene until a second fight led to a hotel security guard getting knocked out while attempting to separate fighters. This security guard was the only guard on duty and, it was discovered, was untrained. More importantly, this was not the first case of violence at the hotel. According to local police incident reports, there were eight fights, nine instances of public drunkenness and 14 instances of disorderly conduct reported within the three years prior to the attack that led to Schickling's death.

Following his death, Schickling's wife sued the hotel owner and a number of other parties, claiming that the hotel failed to follow established security and safety procedures.  As a result, hotel visitors like Schickling were placed at increased risk of harm and danger. The hotel was also sued for violations of state liquor laws on account of continuing to serve alcohol to obviously intoxicated wedding guests, which contributed to the death of her husband.

According to Schickling's counsel, the hotel was aware of security policies designed to protect members of the public from harm, yet chose to ignore them.  This disregard led to Schickling's death.

The hotel also had advanced notice that the establishment would be filled to capacity with large numbers of guests partaking in the consumption of alcohol at the two open-bar wedding receptions. Despite this knowledge, the hotel gave no consideration to increasing the number of security personnel on duty to handle the large number of guests in an environment with a history of fights and drunken disorderly conduct.

It was demonstrated at trial that for only another $200,  the hotel could have added two additional guards to provide security that evening.

The defendants denied the allegations and maintained that Wells' actions were completely unforeseeable, given his past history of violence was completely unknown to anyone at the hotel. Wells' history included a guilty plea to involuntary manslaughter, said defense counsel, for which he had been sentenced to 20 to 60 months of imprisonment. Also, the defense noted that Wells indisputably punched Schickling without provocation or warning, and there were no other instances of violent assault on the night of June 3, despite the altercations described by Schickling's attorneys

The plaintiffs settled with Meyer Jabara Hotels LLC, Allentown Interstate Motel Enterprises and Allentown Interstate Associates for $5.5 million prior to trial. The plaintiffs also settled with Wells in the amount of $7,000 for a total recovery of 5,507,000. Share this post :
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