March 01, 2002
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio March 2002 Current Issue
March 2002 lawandplan.gifPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

The Law & the Planner

By Jonathan T. Howe, Esq.


Meeting planners can learn valuable lessons from these recent court cases

Who is responsible when a meeting attendee or guest is injured on-site during an event? Several cases decided recently have brought that question to the courtroom, and the findings hold valuable lessons for planners.

As a salesman staying at a Tennessee hotel was stepping into the bathtub, he grabbed the handrail on the wall. It gave way and he fell backward, injuring his hip. Doctors determined he had a herniated disc in his back and required orthopedic surgery.

Interestingly, the man previously had undergone a similar operation. Nonetheless, the court found the hotel liable. The hotel appealed, arguing none of the experts who testified could show a causal relationship between the fall and the injury; it lost the appeal.

Many times planners face issues of pre-existing injuries being aggravated by an accident on-site. When there is negligence on the defendant’s part, a pre-existing condition is immaterial, unless it is shown that the damage was not a result of the negligence.

To be sure all facts come to light, conduct a prompt and thorough accident investigation, and notify your insurance carrier immediately.

When a German tourist died at a Florida hotel, the property was held responsible for the failure of its on-call doctor to treat the visitor properly.

Upon arriving at the hotel, the wife said she did not feel well. Later, the husband asked for medical assistance. Paramedics responded and determined no further medical action was needed. The hotel said a doctor was on call, but if the wife wanted more tests, she should go to the hospital.

Her condition worsened, and the hotel called a medical service, which sent in a physician licensed in South America who was working in Florida with a temporary physician assistant’s license. Under his care, the wife’s condition deteriorated, and she died that night, without going to the hospital.

The court concluded her death resulted from a misdiagnosis and failure to provide proper medical advice. It was disclosed that the medical service had solicited business from desk clerks, concierges and hotel operators, paying a commission for each referral; the hotel never checked on the quality of the service.

The jury found the hotel had a duty to protect guests from unreasonable risk of harm when providing medical assistance. The failure to research the medical service created a foreseeable risk that a guest would obtain improper medical care.

What does this mean for planners? First, investigate medical facilities near the property and services available in case of need. Also, specify in contracts who will be responsible for what in terms of medical aid. Before you hire or refer someone to provide such services, you must exercise due diligence to be sure the vendor is competent.

In another decision the court applied common sense: A hotel has no duty to warn of an obvious hazard. The case dealt with a woman who tripped over a step to the bathtub. She had been at the hotel before and knew of the hazard. When she sued, the court threw out the case. Once someone is aware of a hazard, the court said, there is no need to remind them of it.

A case still in the courts concerns a professional fighter injured during a fight held at a hotel. He says the property is liable for his injuries because it did not have an ambulance standing by.

The lesson here is be prepared if something goes horribly wrong. If your event involves any bodily risk, be sure to have the appropriate medical staff on-site.

Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is a senior partner in the Chicago and Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton, Ltd., which specializes in meetings, travel and hospitality law. Legal questions can be e-mailed to him at

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