Motel not liable for man's death

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Jul 14, 2011


ATLANTA (Legal Newsline) - The Georgia Supreme Court, in a ruling last week, said the state Court of Appeals did not err in concluding that a hotel had no duty to comply with a woman's requests to try to rescue her husband from "medical peril."

Virginia Rasnick and her husband, Sidney, 77, lived in Texas. While on a work assignment in Georgia, Sidney stayed at the Motel Jesup, owned and operated by Krishna Hospitality Inc.

Sidney checked into the motel on March 6, 2006. Days later, on the morning of March 13, a motel housekeeper found him lying on the floor of his motel room, unable to get up.

The housekeeper informed the owner, who called 911. About 12:30 p.m., an ambulance transported Sidney to a nearby hospital, where he died a short time later.

An autopsy revealed that he died from a combination of untreated coronary artery disease and enlargement of his heart.

A cardiologist said the man might have survived if he had received medical treatment earlier.

Shortly after, Virginia Rasnick filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Krishna, alleging negligence.

She said she made numerous calls to the motel the night before her husband died and when she was unable to reach him, she alerted the motel operators of the possibility that her husband was in need of medical aid.

However, the motel operators refused to comply with her requests to check on him.

Virginia maintained that the failure of Krishna's personnel to heed her expressed concern amounted to a breach of duty to render aid to a paying guest.

Krishna moved for summary judgment, arguing that Georgia law did not impose a duty on it to investigate Sidney's condition and render or summon medical aid, if needed.

A trial court granted Krishna's motion for summary judgment, determining that the company had no legal duty to comply with Virginia's requests to check on her husband, and thus there was no legal duty sufficient to support liability in negligence.

The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Justice P. Harris Hines, who authored the state high court's July 5 opinion, said the Rasnicks had to show that Krishna had a legal obligation or duty to act.

But this she cannot do, the Court said.

"The Court of Appeals correctly cited the general principle that, 'a person is under no duty to rescue another from a situation of peril which the former has not caused,'" it wrote.

And there is no evidence the company caused the man's underlying health problems, the Court noted.

Further, state law does not impose on innkeepers the duty to rescue and does not expand an innkeeper's duty of care for the personal safety of its guests beyond that required in state caselaw, the Court said.

"The General Assembly could have given innkeepers the duty to 'investigate' or 'check on' a guest, but it chose not to do so. And sound arguments can be made for that choice," it wrote.

"To require that an innkeeper monitor in any manner the possible health problems of a guest, which are not caused by or are unrelated to the stay at the facility, is not only unwarranted as a matter of law but unworkable as a matter of fact and practicality."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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