Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio March
The Law & the Planner
By Jonathan T. Howe,
ON-SITE INJURIES: WHO IS AT FAULT?
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.
THE RE-INJURED BACK
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
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
A MEDICAL TRAGEDY
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
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.
WATCH YOUR STEP
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 email@example.com.
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