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Groh v. Westin Operator, LLC

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Fourth Division

March 28, 2013

Jillian Groh, individually and by and through her guardians and conservators, William and Janelle Groh, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Westin Operator, LLC, Defendant-Appellee

Editorial Note:

This Opinion is subject to revision upon final publication.

City and County of Denver District Court No. 08CV1389. Honorable R. Michael Mullins, Judge. Prior Opinion Announced November 1, 2012, WITHDRAWN.

The Law Offices of Alan C. Shafner, Alan C. Shafner, Greenwood Village, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

The Waltz Law Firm, Richard A. Waltz, John D. Halepaska, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellee.

Opinion by JUDGE WEBB. Vogt[*], J., concurs. Furman, J., concurs in part and dissents in part.



Page 473

Petition for Rehearing GRANTED

Furman, J., would DENY

[¶1] This personal injury action presents an issue of first impression in Colorado: whether a hotel's duty of care to a guest requires that, in lawfully evicting the guest, the hotel act reasonably. We conclude that a hotel must evict a guest in a reasonable manner, which precludes ejecting a guest into foreseeably dangerous circumstances resulting from either the guest's condition or the environment.

Page 474

We further conclude that here a reasonable jury could find a breach of this duty on the present record. Therefore, we reverse the summary judgment against plaintiff, Jillian Groh, and in favor of defendant, Westin Operator, LLC (the Westin), in part, and remand for further proceedings, limited to her negligence claim based on the eviction.

I. Facts for Purposes of Summary Judgment

A. The Eviction

[¶2] Groh planned to spend the night of March 3, 2007, with friends visiting night clubs in downtown Denver. She reserved a room at the Westin's downtown hotel. Although Groh was the only registered guest, two of her female friends checked in with her and the Westin gave each of them a key to the room.

[¶3] After having consumed alcoholic beverages throughout the evening, Groh, the two girlfriends, and eight other persons gathered in the room. Around 2:45 a.m., a security guard heard loud noises coming from Groh's room. Although no other guests had complained, the guard went to the door and asked for the person in charge. Over the next few minutes, a series of escalating interactions occurred among this guard, a second guard, the hotel manager, Groh, and some of the others in the room. One guard entered the room without Groh's permission, to which she objected.

[¶4] During these interactions, at least one person told the Westin employees that everyone in the group was " drunk," " that was the whole purpose" of the room having been rented, and the guard could not expect them to leave because " We are drunk. We can't drive." Ultimately, because Groh was the registered guest, the manager asked that she stay, but would not let the others remain. Groh said that she would leave as well.

[¶5] During the negotiations between Groh and the Westin employees, several members of her party decided to leave the hotel and were not involved in any of the following events. Shortly after 3:00 a.m., Groh and the remainder of her group were escorted to the front entrance of the hotel by the guards. Although police officers were on the premises investigating an unrelated incident, the Westin did not involve them.

[¶6] The first security guard blocked the doorframe with his body as the last person exited. One of Groh's friends asked the guard, " Hey, man, it's freezing out here, can we wait in the lobby while we get a cab?" The guard crossed his arms and said, " No, get the f*** out of here." [1]

B. The Accident

[¶7] Groh and the remaining six persons in the group walked down a ramp into the parking garage below the hotel. They passed several vehicles, including a taxi. Angela Reed offered to drive. Groh handed Reed the keys to her vehicle. Groh and the others entered the vehicle, with Reed behind the wheel.

[¶8] Around 4:00 a.m., several miles from the hotel in route to Groh's home, Reed rear-ended a vehicle that was traveling well below the speed limit. A toxicology expert estimated that Reed's blood alcohol content was between 0.170 and 0.222 at the time of the accident. Groh sustained severe and permanent injuries.

C. The Trial Court's Ruling

[¶9] Groh sued the Westin for damages under several negligence and breach of contract claims. The trial court granted summary judgment for the Westin, concluding in relevant part:

[B]ased on [Groh]'s alleged claims for negligence, in order for [the] Westin to be liable for negligence there must be a duty for a hotel, when evicting guests, to ensure that they do not drive away drunk.
. . . .
This Court holds that hotels do not have a legal duty to prevent injuries subsequent to eviction by preventing drunk driving. To hold otherwise would put hotels in the

Page 475

impossible position of exercising control over others when they have ...

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