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GEORGIA SUPREME COURT RULES HOTELS HAVE NO DUTY TO CHECK ON GUESTS FOR MEDICAL CONDITIONS NOT CAUSED BY THE HOTEL

Posted by H. Lee Pruett

Refusing to bow to the adage that “bad facts make bad law,” a bare majority of Georgia Supreme Court justices held that a hotel has no duty to check on a guest or render aid for medical conditions unrelated to the guest’s stay at the hotel. Rasnick v. Krishna Hospitality, Inc., Case No. S10G0971 (Ga. S. Ct., July 5, 2011). The facts are bad indeed. In 2006, a 77 year old Texan named Sidney Rasnick traveled to Georgia on a work assignment and checked into the Motel Jesup. He suffered from a number of health conditions, and he talked with his wife on the telephone several times each day. On the sixth night, Ms. Rasnick called her husband at his hotel room but got no answer. She then called the motel operator and said she thought her husband might need medical attention, and she requested that the motel have someone check on him, but the operator refused. Ms. Rasnick called her husband’s room again and got no answer. She again called the motel, said she was very worried about her husband, and again asked that someone check on him. The operator said Mr. Rasnick was resting, that she was disturbing him, and hung up. Ms. Rasnick called yet again and was told by an angry male operator to call the room, and then he hung up. In each of her five subsequent calls to the motel, Ms. Rasnick got a recording that no one was available. The next morning, a housekeeper found Mr. Rasnick on the floor of his room, unable to move. The motel owner called an ambulance, but Mr. Rasnick died from heart disease later that morning. In the ensuing wrongful death suit, a cardiologist testified that Mr. Rasnick would have survived had he received treatment the night before.

Ms. Rasnick contended that the motel owner was negligent in breaching its duty to render aid to a paying guest. The trial court granted the motel owner’s motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeals agreed the motel had no duty to investigate or render aid, and affirmed summary judgment. The Georgia Supreme Court granted cert to consider “whether the Court of Appeals erred in concluding as a matter of law that the defendant hotel had no duty to comply with the plaintiff’s requests to attempt a rescue of her husband from his medical peril.” In a 4-3 decision, the majority concluded the hotel had no such duty and affirmed summary judgment for the hotel.

The Court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the hotel’s duty arose from the property owner’s obligation to exercise ordinary care in keeping the premises safe under O.C.G.A. § 51-3-1. Leaving aside “issues of morality and humanity,” the Court agreed that “a person is under no duty to rescue another from a situation of peril which the former has not caused.” The Court declined to adopt Section 314A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, which provides that an innkeeper is under a duty to render “first aid [to guests] after it knows or has reason to know that they are ill or injured, and to care for them until they can be cared for by others.” The Court noted the statutes in O.C.G.A. §§ 43-21-1, et seq. impose no duty on innkeepers to check on a guest’s medical condition. The Georgia Legislature could have included such a duty but chose not to. Besides, the Court said, a duty to monitor a guest’s health condition which is unrelated to the premises “is not only unwarranted as a matter of law but unworkable as a matter of fact and practicality.” How much would this cost the hotels? the Court asked. Who could initiate the inquiry? A friend? A family member? What about the guest’s privacy? Thus, the Court declined “to judicially engraft into the caselaw of this State, the additional duty upon innkeepers to investigate or check on their guests to determine if they are in medical need.”

Citing caselaw from other states, the dissent urged adoption of Section 314A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts. Given the “bad facts” of this case, “a jury could find that the motel had reason to know that Mr. Rasnick was ill or injured, thereby triggering its duty to protect him from further danger.” The dissent also pitched to the General Assembly “to close the gap in the common law resulting from the majority opinion’s unnecessary limitation on the duties of an innkeeper and its inexplicable rejection of the application of § 314A to this case.”