Econo Lodge is a franchised brand of motels, belonging to the Choice Hotels company. Sadly, like so many motel brands that emphasize affordability, Econo Lodge locations don’t always provide the basic level of safety that all guests have a right to expect, regardless of price point.
Below, we’ll go into common reasons you might need to sue Econo Lodge, the obstacles you may face, and how a lawyer can help. If at any point you would prefer to speak with a lawyer directly, feel free to reach out by phone or chat.
Motel Owners Are Responsible for Keeping Their Properties Hazard-Free
One of the most basic responsibilities of any landlord is to anticipate potential threats to guests, tenants, and employees, and to take all reasonable steps to address those threats.
Some threats, and the appropriate safety measures to address them, are consistent across just about any type of property. For example, walkways should be kept free of tripping hazards. Railings should be free of sharp edges and strong enough to hold a person’s weight. Buildings should be equipped with fire detection and suppression systems, up to date with the latest applicable codes.
Other safety necessities vary with the use, location, and features of the property.
For example, by their nature, all motels have sleeping quarters, and most have gas-powered heating systems for water and air. This makes functioning CO detectors important, to prevent fatal nighttime poisonings.
Swimming pools also bring their own set of risks — drownings, misuse of toxic chemicals, and slipping injuries on hard, wet surfaces. Motels have a duty to minimize these risks, ideally with lifeguards, but at least with clear warning signs and good maintenance.
Econo Lodge guests have, unfortunately, fallen victim to several serious accidents over the years.
In June of 2019, a 5-year-old girl drowned in the pool of the Econo Lodge in Sumter, South Carolina. She was surrounded by dozens of other guests when the accident happened, but apparently, no one noticed she was in distress until it was too late.
Just over a year later, in Prince George, Vancouver, three people died in an Econo Lodge fire, and several more were injured. A man was tried for arson in that case, mainly based on a security video of him wandering the parking lot, smoking, and entering the stairwell where the fire started. He was cleared due to lack of evidence, however, and the exact cause of the ignition was never determined. It’s possible it was a smoking accident, or unrelated to the suspect entirely.
Since then, there have been at least four other fires at Econo Lodges around the U.S, one each in Iowa, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Tennessee, although, thankfully, none of them resulted in fatalities. Both the Iowa and Wisconsin incidents also involved smoking materials, and the Maryland one started in an empty room, suggesting a possible electrical issue.
In all of these incidents, it’s worth asking whether the Econo Lodge in question did enough to prevent the accident from happening, or to help guests escape with as little harm as possible.
Security Is an Essential Part of Guest Safety at Motels Like Econo Lodge
Sometimes, the greatest danger to people staying at a motel is other people.
Violence may seem unpredictable when viewed on a small scale, but most violent crimes are part of a larger local pattern, or preceded by specific warning signs. In this sense, violence can be a known property hazard, just like fire or accidental drowning, and businesses like Econo Lodge have the same responsibility to protect guests accordingly.
For example, it’s a good idea for motels with a history of violence on or near the property to invest in:
- Gates and fencing
- Good lighting
- Surveillance cameras in common areas
- Identity verification for guests
- Keycard-controlled access to guest areas and amenities
- Restrictions on weapons
- Security guard presence
Unfortunately, Econo Lodge has not always provided a secure environment for guests, particularly women.
The company is currently on the receiving end of a lawsuit for a particularly egregious alleged incident at the Longmont, Colorado location. In that instance, a woman who was in the process of leaving her boyfriend was staying at the motel with her mother, in a room the mother had rented. The two of them allowed the ex-boyfriend to eat with them in the room, but then kicked him out when he allegedly began acting erratically.
According to the suit, he then went downstairs to the front desk, where he requested and received a key to the woman’s room, in spite of the fact that he was visibly intoxicated and making profane and aggressive remarks about her. He entered the room while she was sleeping and attacked her, including stabbing her in the head. Remarkably, she survived.
Other women and girls staying at Econo Lodge locations have not been so lucky. One woman was found shot to death in her room in Orlando, Florida in 2018. The same happened to a teenage girl staying at a location in Virginia Beach in 2020, and to another woman in Albuquerque in 2023.
Also in 2023, a man apparently intervened to protect a woman who was being physically attacked at an Econo Lodge in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Her attacker was also her common-law husband. Both men ended up in the hospital, where the husband died.
Men have also found themselves the intended targets of violent crime at Econo Lodges. One man had a gun forced into his mouth as part of a robbery at a Philadelphia location.
On each of these occasions — and indeed all occasions — the nonviolent guests should have been able to check into a motel and expect peace and safety. Econo Lodge did not give that to them.
Motels that Enable Human Trafficking Owe Their Victims Compensation
When a motel has an ongoing crime problem, it’s almost always because it’s more profitable for the owner to leave it that way than to try to make it safer. Security upgrades cost money, so sometimes companies will skimp on making these changes, just as they might skimp on fixing an unsafe staircase.
Other times, however, companies resist adding security because they are profiting from the crime itself. This is particularly common with motels, because of their popularity as a staging ground for criminal enterprises, including illegal weapon sales, drug sales, and especially sex trafficking.
In October of 2019, a New York woman sued both Choice Hotels and Wyndham Hotels, stating that she had been exploited for commercial sex out of both an Econo Lodge in the Bronx and a Howard Johnson in Queens from 2006 through 2009. She was just 10 years old at the beginning of that time. In her suit, she claimed that the staff at both motels ignored obvious warning signs that she was being victimized, and that some accepted opportunities to sexually abuse her in lieu of payment for the rooms.
In the years since 2009, legal protections for sex trafficking survivors have improved, scrutiny toward motels has increased, and best practices for preventing sex trafficking have become more standardized, making it harder for motels to claim falsely that they’re doing all they can.
However, that doesn’t mean that the problem has disappeared, either from the hospitality industry as a whole, or, evidently, from Econo Lodge as a brand.
In June of 2023, police arrived at the Econo Lodge in Asheville, North Carolina, in search of a suspect with open warrants. They would later describe what they found there as “a potential human trafficking ring,” taking up multiple rooms of the motel. There were also illegal weapons and large quantities of drugs present. One of the men arrested as a suspected customer of the sex trafficking operation was a county police deputy.
Less than a year earlier, a survivor called the Anti-Human Trafficking hotline from the Econo Lodge in Colorado Springs. When police arrived, she pointed out a man she said had coerced her into having commercial sex for him. An investigation revealed that the man had made 81 reservations at the Econo Lodge within the past year, was posting commercial sex ads online, and had bragged to a customer in a message that he “had 57 women.”
If you’ve had an experience like this at an Econo Lodge, you very likely have a case. Any party that knowingly enables or profits off of sex trafficking is guilty of sex trafficking, and liable for the full value of the damages. This absolutely includes complicit motels.
Franchise Law Makes It Challenging, but Not Impossible, to Sue Brands Like Econo Lodge
Although the Econo Lodge brand belongs to Choice Hotels, each individual Econo Lodge location is owned by a franchisee. Typically, the franchisee is a smaller, local business.
This arrangement does make lawsuits against Econo Lodge more difficult. When faced with possible liability, Choice Hotels will almost certainly claim that any negligent mismanagement of an Econo Lodge must be the fault of the franchisee operating that specific location, rather than of Choice Hotels itself.
Franchisors like Choice Hotels have very little legal obligation to regulate their franchisees, so this argument is often effective. It doesn’t cover every situation, however. If any of the brand merchandise, rules, or recommendations Choice Hotels provided to the franchisee contributed to the harm a victim suffered, Choice Hotels would be responsible for the damages.
Even in cases where Choice Hotels is fully insulated against liability, however, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not worth pursuing a lawsuit. The negligence and the resulting harm still took place; Choice Hotels just may not be the correct defendant. Some franchisees may be large enough companies in their own right to pay for an appropriate settlement themselves, or have liability insurance from a company that can.
What to Do If You’ve Been Harmed or Lost a Loved One at an Econo Lodge
If you’re wondering whether you still have the option of suing Econo Lodge for something that happened to you months or years ago, the best thing you can do is talk it over with a lawyer at your earliest convenience. In general, your chances of fair compensation are higher the sooner you find qualified representation.
If the incident in question just happened, however, there are three other urgent priorities you’ll need to attend to:
- Get to safety. Before any other consideration, protect yourself and your loved ones from further harm. If there’s an ongoing danger at the Econo Lodge, such as a fire or an active threat of violence, this means getting away and reaching someplace safe, and/or calling for emergency assistance.
- Get medical care. If you have obvious, serious physical injuries, call for an ambulance. If not, arrange a full medical examination as soon as possible. Consider also seeking out mental healthcare, particularly if you were a victim of criminal violence.
- Preserve the evidence. If you feel safe and healthy enough to stay at the scene of the initial incident for a while, this process starts there. Take pictures of what injured you, get the names and contact information of any witnesses, and write down what you remember. Keep any records you have of your stay at the motel, and your expenses or lost income related to the incident.
Once these concerns are taken care of or in progress, it’s time to find a lawyer. In the meantime, avoid communicating with Econo Lodge, or limit communication to a brief notification that the incident occurred.
The Stoddard Firm has experts on personal injury, wrongful death, premises liability, human trafficking law, franchise law, and innkeeper laws. We believe in holding large companies responsible for the power they wield over public safety. Above all, we’re passionate about helping the survivors of crime and needless accidents get the support they need to rebuild their lives.
To get started discussing your case with a lawyer, reach out through our online chat function or at 678-RESULTS for a free consultation.