La Quinta Inn & Suites is one of dozens of hospitality brands owned by the massive Wyndham Hotels & Resorts company. It’s advertised as a “mid-scale” option, something many travelers seek out not only for comfort, but for a sense of safety and security.
Legally, that safety and security really should be available at any lodging, regardless of price range. In practice, it’s far from a guarantee, even for travelers who do spend a little extra.
Below, we’ll go into detail on motels’ responsibilities to their guests, and common reasons you might need to sue a La Quinta Inn. If at any point you would prefer to speak directly with a lawyer about your case, feel free to reach out by phone or chat.
Motel Owners Must Use All Available Information to Protect Their Guests from Harm
Like all physical businesses, motels are obligated to do whatever they reasonably can to keep their visitors safe, based on the knowledge available to them at the time.
The international building and fire codes contain extremely detailed and proven instructions on how to keep buildings, including motels, structurally safe for everyone inside. Motel owners have a legal duty to abide by these codes, as well as local regulations. When a guest suffers an accident caused by a code violation, such as a missing smoke detector in their room, a broken handrail, or contaminated tap water, the motel is liable for the results.
Of course, real life incidents aren’t always this simple. Sometimes a danger isn’t covered by written regulations, but is obvious enough that the hotel could and should have addressed it through common sense. Sometimes the danger isn’t obvious at all to a layperson, but should have been caught by a qualified inspector.
For example, in 2019, a fire engulfed the top floor and attic of a La Quinta Inn in Schertz, Texas. Three people and a dog were injured. There were working sprinklers on the top floor, but none in the attic, because the building code did not require them there. Investigators ultimately determined that the fire had started with an electrical problem in an exterior light fixture. There was an empty space behind the light that led into the attic, where the fire took hold.
That building might have looked perfectly safe at first glance, with its working and up-to-code fire suppression system, but the bad wiring and lack of fire resistance hidden inside the wall most likely constituted code violations.
Even if everything followed the rulebook, however, one could argue that La Quinta had a duty to go above and beyond the fire code to make its upper floors safer, based on the company’s own experience. The previous year, two other La Quinta Inns, one in Jacksonville, Texas and another in Capitol Heights, Maryland, suffered fires to their upper floors and sprinkler-free attics. The Capitol Heights incident resulted in the death of a guest.
Motel Negligence Can’t Always Be Detected with Standard Inspections
Some motel safety violations may be too short-lived to screen for, yet have serious consequences, such as the gas accident at the La Quinta in Fargo, North Dakota this year. In that instance, an employee working with swimming pool chemicals accidentally spilled a container, briefly putting chlorine into contact with muriatic acid. Pool technicians are trained to keep these substances apart, because the reaction between them produces dangerous fumes. A health inspector followed up within a matter of days and found no problems with the procedures the employees were following, calling the accident a “freak” occurrence. Still, the gas cloud from that one safety lapse sickened 10 children and sent one to the hospital.
Still other dangers to motel guests are not covered under any standardized regulations, but are the motel’s responsibility nonetheless. Bedbugs, for example, are a common travel hazard not addressed by any international or federal standard. Yet courts generally agree that motels have a duty to fight bedbugs whenever they become aware of them.
A La Quinta Inn in Portland, Oregon allegedly failed to do this in 2015, when a guest reported suffering multiple bites on his first night. According to his subsequent lawsuit, he was refused a transfer to a different room, fell back asleep, and woke up with a severe reaction to a total of 57 bedbug bites, which sent him to the ER.
Although generally considered more of a nuisance than a threat, bedbug bites can produce a dangerous anaphylactic reaction in some people.
Crime Often Qualifies as a Predictable and Preventable Threat on Motel Premises
Much like bedbugs, there’s no universal standard for exactly what a motel must do to protect people from violent crime. There are, however, some proven best practices for making motels unwelcoming to crime, and therefore safer for guests, including:
- Equipping common areas with visible cameras and good lighting.
- Keeping a complete record of guests, with ID required upon check-in.
- Placing guests who have made violent threats in the past on a Do Not Serve list.
- Supporting guests who report crimes and cooperating with investigations.
- Maintaining a 24-hour security guard presence.
- Minimizing public access to the premises using fences, gates, and room key operated access points.
Obviously, some of these measures are more extreme than others, and not every motel will need a full-time live security presence. How stringent a motel’s security should be depends on the likelihood of violence, based on known threats and past incidents on and around the property.
In just the past couple of months, there have been publicized shootings at La Quinta Inns in Manassas, Virgina, Memphis, Tennessee, and Capital Heights, Maryland — the same location where the fatal fire took place in 2018.
During that same time period, there were also two assaults in quick succession at the Coral Springs location in Florida. One was a domestic incident, the other a rape and strangulation accompanied by a death threat.
Some or all of these locations may have known already that their guests needed better security, but if they didn’t, they do now. Motels that allow patterns of violence to continue without making an effort to protect their guests are liable for the consequences, just as much motels that refuse to fix dangerous appliances or tripping hazards.
Motel Chains Like La Quinta Have a Particular Responsibility to Fight Sex Trafficking
Some motels, and other properties for that matter, end up with high crime rates and inadequate security by accident. The owners might prefer for the property to be crime-free, but be unwilling to invest the money and effort to make that happen. Or, they might not care or notice (even though they should) that the crime problem is happening at all.
Sometimes, however, the reason for a high-crime motel is much more sinister. Sometimes, violent crime is an intentional part of a motel’s business model.
Several criminal industries, most notably sex trafficking, use motels as an everyday part of their operations. Motels that choose to host sex traffickers can profit off of this criminal enterprise through steady room bookings and often bribes.
Like many hospitality brands, La Quinta motels have been sued multiple times over the past decade for allegedly enabling sex traffickers and siding with them over their victims in order to increase their profits.
Here in Georgia, four women sued four local motels, saying they had systematically aided in their sexual exploitation over the course of six years, ending in 2016. One of the motels was the La Quinta Inn in Alpharetta. Specific accusations toward that location included employees acting as lookouts for traffickers, providing them with extra keys and rooms near the back entrance for inconspicuous access, and failing to call the police even when one of the victims was beaten for six hours, leaving blood on the walls of the room.
There was a similar suit in 2019, against multiple Denver motels, including a La Quinta. That one was dismissed, but the issue in question was whether there was adequate evidence that the motels were aware of the trafficking, not whether the trafficking occurred, or whether it financially benefitted the motel.
Two more suits followed the next year, in Houston, Texas and Naples, Florida, with La Quinta locations named in them.
Thankfully, the precedent for sex trafficking liability has greatly improved in recent years. Any individual or company that knowingly enables sex trafficking is responsible for that sex trafficking, every bit as much as the individual pimps. Training standards for hospitality employees have risen, making it much harder for motels to claim ignorance in the face of obvious signs.
If you’re a survivor of sex trafficking, you have a good chance of collecting compensation and holding complicit motels accountable.
What to Do If You’ve Been Injured or Lost Someone at a La Quinta Inn
To be clear, if you have ever been harmed at a La Quinta Inn, it’s worth discussing your options with a lawyer. Even if you’re worried that you didn’t handle the aftermath strategically perfectly, or that you’ve waited too long, it never hurts to check with an expert.
It’s common for victims, especially of sexual violence, to need processing time before they decide to come forward, and the law often takes this into account.
If, however, you’re a survivor of a very recent incident and looking to maximize your chances of collecting full compensation, it’s best to follow these steps as quickly and closely as you can:
- Get yourself and your loved ones someplace safe. Depending on the type of incident you were involved in, this might mean anything from getting out of the way of a structurally unsound staircase to getting as far away from the motel as possible.
- Preserve whatever evidence you can. If you’re still on the premises and safe, take pictures of the hazard that injured you. If you have a record of being checked into the motel, keep it.
- Notify the staff of what happened, if you feel comfortable doing so. This helps start a paper trail that may help prevent the motel from denying that the incident ever happened, or destroying relevant security footage. Keep this communication brief and general. More discussion creates more opportunities for your words to be twisted against you.
- Pursue all appropriate medical care, and add any expense records to your evidence collection. Seeking timely care may help your case as well as your physical recovery.
- Reach out to a lawyer in your area who has experiences with cases like yours. Once you’ve started working together, reroute all communications related to the case through your lawyer’s office.
The Stoddard Firm has extensive experience in premises liability, personal injury, wrongful death, sex trafficking law, and innkeeper laws. We have no fear of taking on large companies, and we’re excellent at proving negligence in complex cases with multiple business and property owners involved.
If the La Quinta location where you were harmed is franchised — meaning that it’s subject to certain rules set by Wyndham but officially owned by someone else — we’ll examine the relationship between Wyndham and the franchise owner to determine if either or both of them could have done more to protect you.
We’re also thorough when it comes to taking stock of the damage done to our clients and their families. Serious physical injuries and emotional traumas have a much higher cost than the immediate medical bills and lost income. Many of the survivors we represent are in need of ongoing support, and may face lifelong limitations on their earning power and ability to enjoy their favorite things. We can identify and explain those hidden costs in terms that courts respect, to make sure our clients’ settlements reflect them.
To get started discussing your case with a qualified lawyer who handles motel accidents and violence in the Atlanta area, reach out at 678-RESULTS or through our online chat function for a free consultation.