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Hotel Owed No Duty to Shooting Victims at Music Event (NJ)

May 26, 2017

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In <a href="http://www.leagle.com/decision/In%20NJCO%2020170404272/HIGGINS%20v.%20HOLIDAY%20INN%20AND%20CONFERENCE%20CENTER"><em>Higgins v. Holiday Inn</em></a>, the Appellate Division analyzed whether a hotel owed a duty to take reasonable precautions by providing security for an event held at the hotel.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">For nineteen weeks, Disc Jockey Clarence Francis hosted and performed at a weekly “Caribbean Nights” event held at the hotel without any incidents of violence. However, on the twentieth week, plaintiffs were smoking outside the hotel when an unidentified, masked gunman approached and shot them, wounding them in their legs. Subsequently, plaintiffs sued the hotel and during discovery found information relating to criminal activity at the hotel, which included assault, robbery, and rape.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Plaintiffs argued that the hotel had a duty to provide security at the Caribbean Nights event because the hotel’s history of criminal activity created a reasonable foreseeable risk of harm to the plaintiffs. Specifically, plaintiffs contended that the circumstances involving the prior criminal activity at the hotel, the late hour, and the festive environment of the Caribbean Night event should have caused defendant to anticipate "loitering, under-age drinking, drugs and fights." Thus, plaintiffs argued when these circumstances are considered together, they imposed upon the hotel a heightened duty to take safeguards against criminal acts of third parties, which include the shooting that caused plaintiffs’ injuries.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The Appellate Division disagreed with the plaintiffs, holding that there was no competent evidence supporting a finding that the hotel could have reasonably foreseen plaintiffs’ shooting. The court reasoned that during the nineteen prior Caribbean Night events there were no criminal incidents. Further, during the hotel’s entire ten-year history, there were no incidents of shooting. Although the hotel had some past criminal activity, the court found this history was not so "alarming" or "escalating" that it would be reasonably predictive that attendees at the event could be affected by such a random act of violence.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thus, this case demonstrates that New Jersey courts utilize a "totality of the circumstances" analysis to determine an owner's liability to prevent third-party criminal conduct on the owner’s premises.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Ken Eng for his contribution to this post and please write to <a href="mailto: mbono@wcmlaw.com">Mike Bono</a> for more information.</p>

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