Wyndham Hotels, the same hospitality giant that owns the Super 8 and Days Inn brands, describes its chain of Howard Johnson hotels as a warm, friendly offering “for families looking for dependable accommodations.”

While Wyndham owns the brand, individual Howard Johnson hotels are actually owned by local franchise holders, who pay for instructions and branded materials from Wyndham.

Not every location has a clean record of meeting that warm, friendly, dependable promise.

Below, we’ll discuss common reasons you might need to sue a Howard Johnson hotel. If at any point you would prefer to speak directly with a lawyer, feel free to reach out by phone or chat.

Hotels Like Howard Johnson Have a Duty to Anticipate Threats to Guest Safety

The most basic test of a valid lawsuit against a Howard Johnson, or any hotel for that matter, comes down to three questions:

  1. Did the hotel’s management know or have reason to know that its guests might be in danger?
  2. Were there reasonable steps the hotel could have taken, to eliminate or reduce that danger?
  3. Was the person bringing the suit harmed in some way, as a result of the hotel’s failure to take those steps?

If the answer to all three is yes, the suit probably has merit.

Some of the dangers hotel guests might face are easy to predict, because they come up all the time, such as cracks or puddles on the floor. Hotel owners have a duty to stay on top of these kinds of issues, making sure they’re repaired or cleaned up in a timely manner.

Other hotel dangers are ever-present, such as the possibility of a structure fire, like the one that destroyed much of the Howard Johnson in Dothan, Alabama last year. Hotels need to be ready for these kinds of disasters at all times, with working fire suppression and alarm systems, and clear, well-lit escape routes for guests.

Still other dangers are more unique, and may seem to come out of nowhere. Even in those cases, once the hotel’s management has reason to know about a hazardous situation, it has a duty to respond.

For example, in 2015, an 11-year-old locked a 3-year-old in the valuables safe of their family’s room at the Howard Johnson in Niagara Falls, New York, as part of a hide-and-seek game. The staff was thankfully able to free the 3-year-old safely, but the whole incident reveals the potential for a much more serious accident. Reasonable responses might include using smaller safes, or warning parents to keep safes closed and combinations out of reach.

More recently, in early 2020, a colony of Africanized honey bees (commonly referred to as “killer bees”) nested under the awning of a Howard Johnson in Pasadena, California. The colony managed to grow to a size of 30,000-40,000 insects, before becoming agitated and attacking. Five people were hospitalized, including two firefighters responding to the scene. In that case, there would likely have been a significant period of time for management to notice the problem and call in experts, before the attack occurred.

If you believe Howard Johnson was privy to warning signs before your incident took place, no matter what the incident was, it’s worth talking to a lawyer.

Howard Johnsons’ On-Site “Water Parks” Lack Theme Park-Level Supervision

Given the brand’s emphasis on appealing to families with small children, it’s not surprising that some Howard Johnson locations boast far more extensive water recreation facilities than average.

The problem with this is that even average hotel swimming pools can be extremely dangerous, especially for small children.

Most hotels with pools do not provide any lifeguard services at all. At best, they post signage announcing this fact and reminding parents to supervise their children carefully. Unfortunately, even the most attentive parents don’t always have the necessary skills to handle pool emergencies. As a result, children drown at hotels every year.

The risks of allowing children to swim without professional supervision are serious enough in small pools, where an adult can watch the activities easily from a single vantage point. Large playgrounds with slides, fountains, and structures that can obscure visibility make serious accidents all the more likely.

This is why, in order to operate safely, dedicated water parks usually have a full staff of lifeguards constantly monitoring the attractions during business hours.

Arguably quite predictably, Howard Johnson water facilities have had some serious and tragic incidents over the years:

  • In 2005, a 7-year-old boy ran ahead of his family to get to the pool at Howard Johnson’s Enchanted Land Resort, in Kissimmee, Florida. When other family members reached the pool, they couldn’t find him there and reported him missing. Police searched for hours, including by helicopter, but he was only found when a tourist swimming underwater with goggles stumbled across his body. The water was apparently too murky for him to be seen from the surface.
  • In 2008, a 4-year-old girl drowned in the Howard Johnson Caribbean Indoor Water Park in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Another guest pulled her from the water and attempted CPR without success. The girl had arrived at the park with her mother, but it’s unclear how long she was missing before her body was found.
  • In 2015, a 6-year-old girl allegedly fainted in an overheated hot tub at the Howard Johnson water park in Anaheim, California. She was later discovered floating face down, and would ultimately suffer life-altering brain damage. According to the family’s lawsuit, the water park had only one staff member working at the time, who was 18 and new to the job. Staff also allegedly placed the girl on very hot concrete after removing her from the tub, aggravating her hyperthermia. The case ended with a confidential settlement.

If you have also been injured or lost a child at a Howard Johnson water park or pool, you may be owed compensation.

Foreseeable Threats to Hotel Guests Can Include the Threat of Criminal Violence

Just as hotels have a duty to clean up spills or fix faulty water heaters, they also have a duty to anticipate likely threats from criminal activity, and institute appropriate security measures.

Criminal violence may seem sudden, random, and unpredictable, and sometimes it is. However, it more often follows quantifiable patterns. Repeated acts of violence most often cluster around properties that, whether intentionally or unintentionally, provide a welcoming climate for crime. Without proper attention from management, hotels can easily become these kinds of problem properties. Or, a hotel may simply be located near other problem properties, and need to compensate accordingly in its approach to security.

Howard Johnson hotels have not always demonstrated an appropriate emphasis on security, relative to their history and location.

In September of 2022, a guest was shot in the parking lot of a Howard Johnson in Northeast Portland, Oregon. He managed to drag himself to the hotel’s lobby in search of help before dying of his injuries. His death was Portland’s 72nd known homicide that year, and the fourth homicide in just over a year within a radius of a few blocks. Parking areas are one of the most dangerous parts of any property in terms of crime, and this particular Howard Johnson had every reason to take particular care in securing its lot.

Several other Howard Johnson hotels have also been the site of deadly or life-threatening assaults so far this decade:

  • In 2020, there were at least three shootings at Howard Johnson hotels, one in Phoenix, Arizona, one in Pikesville, Maryland, and one in Greensboro, North Carolina. Two people were killed and one wounded.
  • In 2021, a man and woman were both shot in a single incident at the Howard Johnson on Tropicana in Las Vegas, Nevada. That same year, another woman was stabbed multiple times in the head at a Howard Johnson in Toms River, New Jersey. Both women survived, but the man did not.
  • In 2022, in addition to the Portland incident, another man was shot in the abdomen at a Howard Johnson in Gillette, Wyoming, and survived.
  • In 2023, yet another man was shot at a Howard Johnson in Bakersfield, California. He also survived.

Many of these locations probably had reason to anticipate the possibility of violence, even before these incidents. Those that could have claimed clean safety records before can no longer do so.

When you’re staying at a Howard Johnson with a history of violence in or around it, you have a right to expect a level of security that matches the potential threat. This might include full-time security guards, gated parking, or keycard checkpoints between public and guest-only areas. At the very least, your door should have multiple locking mechanisms, and common areas should be well-lit and equipped with surveillance cameras.

If you’re not sure whether negligent security played a role in your incident, it’s always worth talking the details over with a lawyer.

Wyndham’s Most Family-Oriented Brand Has a History of Sex Trafficking Incidents

Sex trafficking is a pervasive threat to the safety of women, children, and vulnerable individuals, and every hotel has a duty to help prevent sex trafficking on its premises.

Any business that knowingly enables or profits from sex trafficking is legally liable for the harm caused to the victims. Hotels, however, play an especially major role in the sex trafficking industry, so hotel owners have a particular responsibility to be on the lookout for the signs, to decline the business of sex traffickers, and to support victims seeking escape.

Several Howard Johnson hotels have been accused of harboring open and obvious sex trafficking, including locations in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Oregon.

One of the survivors from Pennsylvania reported that the hotel’s general manager offered her trafficker free rooms in exchange for sex with her, and helped move her to a different hotel when police were in the area. That manager ultimately faced criminal penalties.

The woman who came forward in the New York case reported that she was just 10 years old when her trafficker recruited her.

Other details shared in the various reports include traffickers specifically requesting ground floor rooms far from the lobby, and victims being ordered to dump soiled bedding in the hallways rather than allow maids to access the rooms.

Sex trafficking is horrific whenever and wherever it occurs, but it’s even more disturbing when it takes place under a brand name specifically marketed toward young families.

If you’ve been sexually exploited under the Howard Johnson banner, you are not alone, and you may be owed significant compensation.

What to Do If You’ve Been Harmed at a Howard Johnson Hotel

When you find yourself on the receiving end of violence, exploitation, or a serious accident, your best bet is to focus on, in order:

  1. Safety. Get yourself and any loved ones out of the way of further harm.
  2. Health. Schedule an exam, and follow all medical recommendations.
  3. Protecting your case. Hold on to any evidence you have, and refuse to be drawn into discussion with representatives from the company or companies involved.
  4. Finding a lawyer. Ideally, choose someone with a strong track record on similar cases.

At the Stoddard Firm, our two greatest passions are getting negligence victims and their families the compensation they deserve, and making sure corporations aren’t rewarded for endangering their customers and the public. This means that, whenever possible, we’ll take the fight beyond the owners of one specific Howard Johnson franchise to the Wyndham company itself.

We’re experts on the franchise laws and innkeeper laws that protect hotels, as well as premises liability, personal injury, wrongful death, negligent security, and sex trafficking law. We will use those skills to get you the best results possible.

To get started talking to a Stoddard Firm lawyer, just call 678-RESULTS, or reach out through our online chat function for a free consultation.

Attorney Matt Stoddard

Atlanta Personal Injury Lawyer Matt StoddardMatt Stoddard is a professional, hardworking, ethical advocate. He routinely faces some of the nation’s largest companies and some of the world’s largest insurers – opponents who have virtually unlimited resources. In these circumstances, Mr. Stoddard is comfortable. Mr. Stoddard provides his strongest efforts to his clients, and he devotes the firm’s significant financial resources to presenting the strongest case possible on their behalf. Matt understands that his clients must put their trust in him. That trust creates an obligation for Matt to work tirelessly on their behalf, and Matt Stoddard does not take that obligation lightly. [ Attorney Bio ]

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