Legal

21 March 2017, Assault victims sue UK hotel for “breach of its duty of care”

On 21 March, The Guardian announced that three sisters from the UAE had begun a lawsuit against The Cumberland, a hotel in London, over an assault they suffered at the hands of a career criminal, Philip Spence. On 6 April 2014, Spence made his way into the trio’s room and attacked them with a hammer, inflicting grievous injuries.

The Cumberland, owned by London and Regional Properties, is listed as a four-star hotel in the heart of central London. It is a Guoman Hotel (management), which is part of GLH Hotels Management Ltd. Guoman has five properties: four in London, and one in Shanghai. GLH owns five brands, including Thistle. Hospitalitynet.org says GLH has 4,000 plus rooms between the UK and Asia – mostly in the UK – and it has ambitious expansion plans that target 100 cities in 10 years.

On 21 October 2014, a British court sentenced Spence to life in prison (minimum 27 years) for attempted murder. During the trial, the prosecution asserted he was a drug addict and a thief with violent tendencies and 37 previous convictions.

The sisters’ law firm is Hodge Jones & Allen. Ms. Riffat Yaqub, a spokesperson for the plaintiffs, described the sisters’ injuries:

  • One of the sisters was left permanently disabled; she has but five percent of her brain functionality, she cannot speak, and she lost an eye.
  • The other two sisters suffer epilepsy, emotional strain, and “behavioral disturbances.”

Regarding the lawsuit, Ms. Yaqub asserts:

  • “The hotel was in breach of its duty of care to guests and failed to operate a security system that would protect against foreseeable risks.” She added, “This is a truly shocking case of a family who were holidaying in London and rightly expected they would be safe in their hotel beds.”
  • The National says Ms. Yaqub also pointed out, “The hotel failed to take account of advice offered by the National Counter Terrorism Security Office in 2012 against threats such as burglary.”
  • Aside from the hotel’s alleged lack of security in this case, Ms. Yaqub says that the hotel had 57 “instances of alleged theft” from its rooms from March 2013 – March 2014, which is, statistically, 4.75 instances a month for a full year. Here, Hodge Jones & Allen allege a history of negligence by the hotel, or a pattern of lack of duty of care.

The Cumberland disputed the claims of negligence, asserting:

  • It would not accept blame in this case because the guests allegedly left their room door open while they slept.
  • Because “hotels are public places,” the hotel put “self-locking mechanisms on every bedroom door.”
  • The attacker bore sole responsibility for the attack, which was “unprecedented, unforeseeable and unprovoked.”

The gist here is that the hotel believes there is a degree of risk at every hotel because they are places with high public traffic, and that it provided guests with adequate physical security (automatic door locks), but the plaintiffs did not utilize this security. The hotel also indicates it could not have prevented the attack because it was unpredictable.

It should be noted that the hotel expressed condolences and sympathies for the assault victims, asserting: “The al-Najjar family suffered an unimaginable and unprecedented ordeal at the hands of a stranger who was swiftly apprehended, tried and convicted with our full support,” and “The al-Najjar sisters have since remained in our thoughts and we continue to wish them progress in their recovery.”

There are four takeaways here. First, this lawsuit is typical and reflects a growing trend: people sue hotels for negligence (the common U.S. legal term) and/or breach of duty of care (the common UK/EU legal term) when they suffer violence at hotels. Muir Analytics has covered several of these suits here (Riu Imperial Marhaba, Sousse, Tunisia), here (Taj Mahal, Mumbai, India), and here (Radisson Hotel, Boston, Massachusetts.)

Second, it does not matter if the hotel violence is criminal, political, or terrorism. The plaintiffs’ accusations are always the same: the hotel failed to protect its guests. As an aside, Ms. Yaqub argues that the UK’s National Counter Terrorism Security Office in 2012 suggested that hotel security methods against burglary, criminal assault, and terrorism are similar or the same in some cases.

Third, courts are increasingly taking on theses types of cases (hotel violence/negligence cases.) In the past, even in the post 9-11 threat environment, some of the most damaging terror attacks on hotels were rejected by several courts for various legal reasons such as jurisdiction, or the argument that a country’s security services – and not the hotel – was supposed to protect hotels from terrorism (see articles on the 2004 Taba Hilton attack lawsuit, here and here.) This is no longer the case. Hotels are increasingly being held responsible.

Fourth, both sides in this case bring up solid arguments. Common sense suggests keeping one’s hotel door closed to protect against crime, especially when sleeping at night. Hotel doors and locks are there for a reason. At the same time, 57 acts of theft in a single year at a hotel indicates major security problems. It also suggests inaction by the hotel to solve said problems. Accordingly, at present, it is difficult to see how the hotel can escape all culpability in this case.

Sources and further reading:

Emirati sisters attacked by drug addict to sue London hotel,” The National, 22 March 2017.

Sisters sue London hotel where they suffered brutal hammer attack,” The Guardian, 21 March 2017.

Man found guilty of attempted murder over London hammer attack,” The Guardian, 21 October 2014.

Hopitalitynet.org profile, “GLH Hotels Management (UK) Ltd.”

Copyright © Muir Analytics 2017