Duty of hoteliers


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A recent Court of Appeal case emphasised the duty on hoteliers to provide accommodation that is reasonably safe for use, even if a guest exposes him/herself to what is an obvious risk.

Briefly, the background in James v White Lion Hotel is that a guest opened a low sash window in his hotel room in order to smoke out of the window. Smoking was prohibited in the room. The sash window needed to be held open (the sash mechanism was faulty). There was also no restriction on opening the window. 

Sadly Mr James lost his balance and fell out of the window to his death. The Court found that pursuant to the Occupiers' Liability Act 1957 the hotel had failed to take reasonable care of its guests, notwithstanding the fact that Mr James should not have been smoking out of the window, that sitting on the window sill, he accepted the risk of falling out and that the accident was his responsibility because he sat on the window sill. 

The hotel also argued that although the sash windows were only 18 inches off the floor, they could not be altered because of the hotel's listed status. 

A factor the Court took into account was that a window restrictor could have been fitted at minimal cost and this was a safety measure that should have been installed. 

The case provides a stark reminder to hoteliers (and other accommodation providers) of the obligation to provide accommodation that is reasonably safe for guest use. Key to this is conducting a thorough, written and recorded risk assessment and implementing proportionate and appropriate safety measures. Maintaining adequate public liability insurance is also crucial.

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