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Georgia Supreme Court Rules on Wrongful Death of Motel Guest

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 1330873_27868463.jpgRecently, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued an interesting decision in the area of Georgia wrongful death and negligence law. In my practice as a Gwinnett accident and injury lawyer, I have litigated many cases involving the laws and court opinions related to both wrongful death and negligence.

In Rasnick v. Krishna Hospitality, the Georgia high court considered the decision of the Georgia Court of Appeals which had concluded that a hotel owner did not have a duty to comply with a wife’s request to check on her husband whom she suspected was having a medical emergency.

The tragic facts of this case involved a 77-year-old Texas man who was traveling on business in Georgia. While a guest at a motel in Georgia, the man was discovered collapsed on the floor of his room by a housekeeper. The motel contacted 911 and he was taken to the hospital where he died later. The autopsy found his heart was enlarged and that he had untreated coronary artery disease.

The deceased man’s wife sued the motel for the wrongful death of her husband. Georgia law permits surviving family members to sue those responsible for the death of their loved one. In this case, the wife alleged that the motel’s failure to respond to her numerous requests by telephone the prior evening asking motel personnel to check in on her husband whom she suspected was having a medical issue, contributed to his death.

Although it is possible the man could have been saved had he had medical attention, the Georgia Court of Appeals had found that as a matter of law, the motel did not have a duty to render aid to the motel guest. The Supreme Court of Georgia agreed.

Although this result might sound harsh, it is important to remember that under Georgia law, negligence requires that certain elements be satisfied including the existence of a duty on the part of the defendant, a breach of that duty, causation of the alleged injury, and damages resulting from the alleged breach of the duty. In this case, the motel was found by the court not to have the legal duty to the complaining party (in this case the deceased’s wife) to protect the guest (her husband) from the medical emergency he is assumed to have experienced in his motel room.

In the words of the Supreme Court: “In order to proceed on a tort claim based upon a failure to render aid, the plaintiff, as a threshold matter, must demonstrate that the defendant had a legal duty to render aid; even the actor’s realization that some action on his or her part is necessary for another’s aid or protection does not, in and of itself impose upon the actor the duty to undertake such action.”

The court explained that under Georgia law, innkeepers do have a duty to exercise ordinary care to provide guests with premises that are reasonably safe for the guests’ use and occupancy. But the court also found there was no legal duty in this case for the motel personnel to check on and rescue a guest who likely was having a medical emergency in his room.

In deciding this case the court noted that “[w]hile issues of morality and humanity are certainly raised by the circumstances of this case, a moral or humane obligation does not compel the existence of a legal duty, the breach of which portends liability.”

Hotel and motel owners do have duties towards their guests just as apartment owners have duties towards their tenants, to keep their property safe and secure. For example, if you suffer an injury in your apartment building, the owner can be held liable for failure to keep the premises safe. As noted by the Supreme Court, we might agree that as a humane gesture, the motel personnel should have checked in on the man when his wife voiced her concerns, but there was no legal duty for them to do so.

When legal questions arise after an accident or injury, it is important to consult with an experienced Gwinnett County injury lawyer. If you have been injured in an accident, or have a family member who has tragically passed away due to the negligence of another, please contact me for a free consultation regarding your legal matter. With offices throughout the Atlanta area, we are conveniently located to handle your legal matters.

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