A jury’s decision to award sportscaster Erin Andrews $55 million as a result of a hotel’s failure to reasonably safeguard her privacy, safety and security is a forceful and important reminder to hotel owners and operators: A guest’s privacy and safety are paramount. Certainly this jury saw it that way, and other juries might reach the same conclusion. Not only should hotels and professional hotel operators have proper policies in place to protect the safety, security and privacy of its guests, they must also adhere to and follow those policies.
As industry veterans and careful industry observers know, effective employee training, especially those on the front-line of guest contact and the delivery of guest services, is paramount. Hotel employees must know what is required and expected of them under the policies and procedures, and perform accordingly. By its nature, the hotel industry is focused on providing guests with consistent excellent guest services that lead to a consistent positive guest experience. In order for owners and operators to consistently deliver such excellent guest experiences, they would be wise to revisit and re-examine current training and operations, and make any modifications needed to reasonably ensure the safety, security and privacy of their guests.
The Court in the Andrews cases noted, as is the case in many jurisdictions, that hotel owners and operators owe a special duty of care to their guests. The jury seemed to reach the very logical conclusion that this duty extends to reasonably providing for the privacy, safety and security of their guests. If this jury verdict is taken as potentially predictive of the future in similar cases, the potential consequences for failing to reasonably provide for the privacy, safety and security of hotel guests may be disastrous. There is no time like the present for owners and operators to ensure that they have up-to-date, written policies in place that address guest safety, security and privacy, and that all employees are being effectively trained to ensure compliance with such policies. At the bare minimum, such policies should make it very clear that hotel employees should never provide a guest’s room information to any other person without that guest’s permission. While this is considered to be standard industry practice already, clearly there are those persons who will find creative ways to gain this and other information for illegal or improper purposes. The point is that these policies should also be regularly updated to account for legal developments, such as the Andrews case, and employee training should be an ongoing enterprise within the hotel. If there are any questions as to whether such a policy complies with the applicable law or industry standards in any given jurisdiction, owners or operators should consult with appropriate legal counsel.