Millions of people visit Arizona and its resorts each year for our weather, golf, skiing, hiking, and other entertainment opportunities during the holiday season or any other time of year. But accidents at resorts do occur and when they result in injuries from the fault of the resort staff or others, you should be reasonably compensated. These injury cases are prosecuted by personal injury lawyers as premises liability claims.
A resort can include a hotel, ski lodge, ski facility, pool area, restaurant, bar, or anything connected to the resort such as the parking lot, hallways of a hotel, stairways, elevators and escalators.
Type of Slip and Fall Accidents at Resorts
Slip and fall accidents often occur during the holiday season at resorts and include:
- Slippery or unsafe surfaces–these are apparent in the pool area where there may be excessive pooling of water, broken tiles, spilled drinks or other liquids.
- Slippery floors in the hotel or restaurant–these are caused by cleaning or waxing of floors, leaks from pipes or ice machines, wet weather, tracking from guests, and spilled liquid containers
- Falls on icy surfaces in parking lot or hotel lobby
- Torn carpeting, uneven steps, broken stairs
- Lack of a handrail or broken handrail
- Poor lighting in a stairway, lobby or hallways
- Defective escalator that catches clothing or stops suddenly
- Ski lift suddenly stops or breaks and skier is ejected
Resorts are expected to keep their guests safe and have a high duty of care to guests. If you are injured, you may have a claim against the resort and any other persons or entities who may have contributed to your accident.
Duty to Remove, Repair or to Warn
Business owners have a heightened duty of care than homeowners because they encourage and invite people to browse, shop and purchase their goods and services. Consequently, business owners have a legal obligation to remedy, repair or remove hazards or dangers to patrons, known as business invitees, such as slippery surfaces, broken handrails, poor lighting, or defects in a ski lift, escalator, or elevator. If the hazard is discovered, the resort owner also needs to warn patrons of the danger if it has yet to be removed.
But the duty of care extends to regularly inspecting the resort property to find possible hazards and to take the appropriate action to remove the hazard and to make it safe.
Before a resort owner can be liable for any injuries suffered by a guest, its employees must have been aware of the existence of the hazard. This means that the resort employees were either warned of the hazard but failed to do anything to repair, remove or warn guests of the danger or that the hazard existed for an unreasonably long time so that the resort should have been aware of it.
Direct knowledge of the hazard is referred to as direct notice. For instance, a guest may have pointed out to an employee that the hotel lobby entrance or pool area was slippery, that the escalator is not functioning properly or that skiers are periodically being ejected from the lift. Once this knowledge is obtained, the resort must take steps to safeguard the area or warn persons. To prove direct notice, a premises liability lawyer would have to interview and obtain statements from witnesses who advised an employee of the hazard, the identity of the employee who was informed, the time when notice was given, and the response of the employee. A timeline may be shown to show how long it took for the resort to take reasonable action to remove the hazard or to sufficiently warn guests to avoid it from when an employee became aware of the danger.
Indirect notice of the hazard is called constructive notice. In these instances, the hazard may not have been known to resort employees but was present for a long enough time so that in the exercise of reasonable care by a business owner it should have known of it. Most business operations that invite patrons onto its premises maintain service records of when inspections were made, who performed the inspection, what areas were inspected, and what was discovered. If a hazard was found, the record should indicate what action was taken. If the records indicate that an inspection was missed, that certain areas where the accident occurred were not inspected, or that a hazard was present according to witnesses but was missed by the inspection, if performed at all, then liability may be found.
For a hazard to have existed long enough for a resort owner to have had constructive notice is an issue for a jury or judge acting as the trier-of-fact to determine. If a storm created icy conditions in a parking lot or was present in the resort lobby entrance several hours after the storm ended and someone slipped and fell, then that is likely too long for a resort owner to not have inspected, discovered the hazard, and taken steps to make it safe.
Likewise, uneven stairs, a broken handrail, or torn carpeting can be examined to see how long they existed. It may be difficult to preserve these items in the condition when the accident occurred since a business owner will often fix or remove the hazard to either protect its guests or invitees or to cover up its own culpability.
Duty to Trespassers and Children
A trespasser is someone who is on a property without the permission of the property owner. It includes those who are business invitees and lawfully on the premises who enter into an area where they do not have permission. For example, if a resort patron enters a conference room that clearly has a sign stating, “Private Meeting.” or “Employees Only,” then he or she becomes a trespasser. In some cases, it is not so obvious when an invitee becomes a trespasser.
A resort owner’s duty of care to a trespasser is much less than to an invitee. The owner only has a duty to not intentionally harm or cause injury to the trespasser such as setting a trap. However, a resort owner may have been aware, or should have been aware, that trespassers were on or in particular areas of the resort, then a resort owner may still be liable if:
- The hazard was one created by the resort owner
- The condition was likely to cause injury or death
- The condition was one where the owner had reason to believe trespassers would not discover
- The owner failed to use reasonable care to warn trespassers of the risk
A different standard applies to children who are trespassers who are too young or immature to appreciate certain risks or to recognize a hazard. As a result, children are lured or attracted to certain areas that pose risks to them. Consequently, a resort owner has a duty to inspect the premises to find potential hazards to children and to immediately remove them. If the resort owner knew or should have known that young children were likely to trespass in certain areas that posed an unreasonable risk of bodily harm to children and of which a young child would be unaware, then the owner may be held liable for any injuries.
Defenses to a Slip and Fall Claim
Defenses to premises liability claims generally consist of:
- Lack of direct or constructive notice
- The condition did not pose an unreasonable risk of harm
- The hazard was open and obvious
- The claimant failed to exercise reasonable caution or care in preventing harm to him or herself or assumed the risk
As indicated above, lack of reasonable notice of the hazard will usually exonerate a resort owner from liability. However, a common defense is that the hazard was open and obvious so that a person exercising reasonable and ordinary care would have noticed and avoided it. This may include broken glass on the floor, snow in the lobby following a snow storm that people brought in on their shoes, deciding to take the stairs while seeing that a handrail was broken or that lighting was out.
Consult with a premises liability lawyer who can examine these defenses and find arguments to counter them. The attorneys at West, Longenbaugh & Zickerman are experienced premises liability attorneys who have handled slip and fall cases at resorts throughout Arizona. Be safe during this holiday season.