Whether you’re taking a much-needed vacation, traveling for work, sharing important life events with out-of-town family, or weathering a change in your housing situation, hotels and motels are supposed to provide a safe refuge where you can rest and unwind.
Unfortunately, staying in a hotel room is often the most dangerous part of an already hectic day away from the comforts of home. In a Bureau of Justice Statistics survey covering the years 2004-2008, an annual average of 7,840 people were violently victimized in U.S hotels or motels where they were staying.
During that same period, 1,090 hotel employees per year were injured in on-the-job assaults, and over 100 more were murdered, adding to the chilling snapshot of general hotel security conditions. And those are just the incidents reported to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Neither law enforcement nor the hospitality industry keeps specific records of violence against hotel guests on an ongoing basis. However, security experts say they’ve seen crime rates rise in hotels since 2008. Crime increases overall in times of economic crisis, and the simultaneous tightening of hotel budgets may have led many owners to leave their locations with inadequate security to handle more motivated criminals. Leading to negligent security cases.
Finding a Safe Hotel to Stay in Georgia Can Be a Particular Challenge
Women who live or travel alone are often inundated with warnings and advice on how to keep themselves safe. The pressure of staying perpetually on guard can be intensely stressful on its own, and the weighty reality of what unaccompanied women must guard themselves against is downright nightmarish.
That nightmare came true in just about every possible way for one 60-year-old woman staying in a Southwest Atlanta motel in April of 2013. A stranger broke into her room by removing a window pane, beat and strangled her to death, had sex with her corpse, and then set it on fire. The motel not only had inadequate security to prevent the attack, but also captured no useful security footage, suspect description, or other evidence. The perpetrator fled the scene and was only caught six months later and convicted by Fulton County Superior Court when his DNA was matched to records from one of his 32 previous arrests.
While women tend to be taught a more cautious attitude toward their personal safety, and are far more likely to become the victims of sex crimes, men are frequently murdered in Georgia hotels as well. In 2017, also in Fulton County, a 24-year-old man was shot and killed at a Budget Hotel with no obvious motive, and the shooter has not been caught. Two other men were found shot dead in a hotel room in DeKalb County in 2018, possibly by each other, though no explanation was proposed as to the reason. This was less than a year after another man was killed in the same hotel’s parking lot.
Even those who can afford more upscale accommodations can’t necessarily relax in peace. In October of 2018, two women were arrested for targeting men with expensive watches in Atlanta hotels and mugging them at gunpoint, along with four male accomplices.
Security in Hotels Means More than Protection against Strangers
Many violent crimes in hotels and motels occur between people who know each other — just as violence elsewhere is often committed by someone the victim knows. Perpetrators don’t always need to break into their victims’ rooms. Sometimes they’re invited, or sharing the same room in the first place. Many people assume that if a crime doesn’t take place in public areas or involve forced entry, it can’t be a case of negligent security. This is not true.
Hard as it can sometimes be for a business (or person) to know when it is or isn’t appropriate to intervene in roommate squabbles or domestic disputes, that defense only goes so far. Horrific situations can unfold directly under hotel management’s nose without any of the typical aspects of an intruder scenario, while still leaving no possible excuse for failing to notice and address them.
Case in point, a 39-year-old cult member managed to hold both his own adult daughter and an unrelated 16-year-old girl captive in his Atlanta hotel room for five years. Between the two of them, he produced four more children, whom he starved, along with the teenage girl. The situation only came to light when the perpetrator himself took one of the children to the hospital, where she died of her malnutrition symptoms. Hotel security took no action whatsoever, with the company later claiming absurdly that they’d had no way of knowing there was anything wrong with the “relationship” between the teenager and her captor. She weighed 59 pounds and was unable to walk or speak when she was finally rescued in 2014 as a 21-year-old woman. The hotel was ruled liable for $13.8 million for her child’s death.
Local Ordinances Can Help, Hinder, or Do Nothing at All
In 2016, the city of Norcross in Gwinnett County passed a new ordinance in an attempt to crack down on its out-of-control hotel-based crime rate. According to the Norcross police chief, the 14 local hotels were host to as many as one in three of the city’s shootings, armed robberies, rapes, sex trafficking incidents, and drug transactions.
The ordinance’s new restrictions on extended stays were widely criticized as a way of discriminating against families facing homelessness, and were repealed a few months later. The new requirements for video surveillance, adequate lighting, and more thorough guest documentation, on the other hand, were largely welcomed by the community and criticized as, if anything, too little too late.
While these basic regulations can only help, they certainly haven’t erased the problem. In August of 2018, significantly after the ordinance went into effect, a woman was stabbed to death in her Norcross hotel room. According to a witness, the victim had been having an argument with her boyfriend, but had time to go out for a cigarette and come back inside before she was murdered. She was found by a security guard responding to the disturbance, only after she had bled out and her killer had fled the scene.
Hotel Owners Have a Responsibility to Keep Guests Safe
Inadequate security isn’t just cause for a bad Yelp review, or for lone women to look for more suitable accommodations. It’s a breach of hotel management’s implicit promise not to subject guests to unsafe conditions.
Unfortunately, there’s no universal, agreed-upon set of requirements for hotel security, but the Bureau of Diplomatic Security has worked together with the Hotel Security Working Group and the American Hotel & Lodging Association to form a best practices assessment. It’s intended to keep diplomats safe, but it’s a useful benchmark for measuring any hotel’s commitment to security.
Some of the security measures it checks for include:
Thorough lighting in public areas, stairwells, parking lots, and garages, with an emergency generator for power outages
Regular internal audits to ensure accountability of keycard use
A system in place to prevent unauthorized vehicles from parking nearby
Onsite security staff monitoring entrances and exits at all times, with periodic patrols of the premises
A staff-controlled checkpoint between public areas and guest floors
An internal emergency telephone number
Name badges and clear identification for security staff
Safety exit maps on the backs of all guest room doors
Secure internal locks on any guest balconies
Guest room doors equipped with peepholes, locks, deadbolts, AND door chains or wishbone latches
Obviously, not all hotels are designed for hosting international diplomats. Depending on size and location, some hotels may find certain security measures impractical or excessive, but the important thing is that every hotel must maintain adequate security to protect its guests from likely, foreseeable threats.
A hotel manager is in an excellent position to know exactly what kinds of dangers guests are likely to face during their stays, and what protection they will need. A guest may not know how many robberies, break-ins, and assaults have happened at the hotel in the past year, but the manager does. If that manager allows those incidents to continue without taking reasonable measures to prevent them, he or she is liable for putting guests in harm’s way.
Stay Safe in Hotels While Traveling
When you stay in a hotel or motel, you put a great deal of your personal safety in the hands of its management and security staff, and you deserve to have that trust honored. Still, given the frequency of hotel crime, it’s always a good idea to take what protective measures you can on your own.
One travel news editor warns hotel patrons to be particularly alert on the way to their rooms, making sure they’re not followed in from outside. The moment when a guest inserts a keycard into the lock is an ideal opportunity for potential assailants or robbers to force their way into the room. This is especially true when guests have just checked in and are still weighed down by luggage.
Asking the check-in clerk to write down your room number without announcing it out loud
Calling for maid service instead of using the door sign
Never opening the door to anyone you don’t know, including anyone claiming to be a hotel employee, until you can verify their identity with the front desk
Leaving your keycard envelope in your room, so that if your keycard is lost or stolen, it won’t be labeled with your room number
Bringing your own doorstop or door jammer to supplement the provided locks
Reporting any suspicious vehicles or unattended bags
Leaving the TV on and the Do Not Disturb Sign in place when you leave, to deter thieves
Remember, however, that while there’s nothing wrong with defending yourself as best you can, being attacked is not a failure of yours. You deserve to be safe and feel safe, and your security is affected by many factors outside your control.
Were You Victimized? Get Help from a Negligent Hotel Security Lawyer
If you become the victim of a crime while staying at a hotel or motel, your first priority should be your own safety and wellbeing. Your second should be documenting the incident. For both reasons, it’s important to seek medical care for any injuries you may sustain, even if they seem minor. It’s also a good idea to write down as much as you can remember while the events are still fresh in your mind. If you’re still at the scene after the incident is over and feel comfortable doing so, take pictures of any broken windows, locks, or other relevant details.
Do not allow yourself to be talked out of reporting the crime to law enforcement. Management at many hotels will try to persuade you to keep anything that might reflect badly on their brand “off the books.” Missing your chance to file a report in a timely manner will only limit your future options, reduce the odds of catching the perpetrator, and enable similar incidents to befall the hotel’s future guests.
Determining liability for crimes on hotel property can be a long, complex process, and you’ll need an expert on your side to navigate it effectively. If you’re wondering whether something that’s happened to you qualifies as a case of inadequate or negligent security, call 678-RESULT or reach out to online for a free consultation with the experienced team at The Stoddard Firm
Attorney Matt Stoddard
Matt 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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