SAN DIEGO (Legal Newsline) – The Court of Appeal of the State of California, 4th Appellate District Division Three reversed an Orange County summary judgment in favor of maintenance staffing company whose employee allegedly was negligent in checking on the welfare of a hotel guest who later was found to have suffered an aneurism, according to an opinion entered on Jan. 31.
The appeals court said hotel guest Priscilla O’Malley’s husband Michael contacted the front desk at the Capistrano Beach hotel at which his wife was staying when he was unable to reach her by phone “for several hours.” This occurred in March 2014.
Fearing that something may have happened to his wife, the opinion said Michael O’Malley “called the hotel and a maintenance worker checked the room. The worker reported that no one was there.”
“(Maintenance worker Saul) Ramos said that he went to the room, knocked several times on the door, and announced, ‘maintenance,'” according to the appeals court’s opinion. “Ramos said that he opened the door, took one step into the room, and called out asking if anyone was there. He said that all the lights were off.”
The opinion states Ramos was an employee of Hospitality Staffing Solutions, a business that supplied maintenance staff to the hotel.
After another five-and-a-half hours from the time Ramos checked the room and “a dozen more” attempts to reach his wife by phone, the opinion said Michael O’Malley drove to the hotel to try to find Priscilla.
“Michael entered the room at about 5 a.m. and noticed that the bedroom and bathroom lights were on,” the opinion said. “Michael heard labored breathing; he saw Priscilla lying on the living room floor. Priscilla was taken to the hospital. It was later determined that she had suffered a brain aneurism.”
According to the ruling, Priscilla still suffers effects from the aneurism, and her doctor “averred that Priscilla’s injuries would have been less severe had she received treatment earlier in the evening.”
The O’Malleys filed a negligence and loss of consortium lawsuit against the hotel and Hospitality Staffing Solutions LLC, the staffing agency that had hired Ramos.
According to the opinion, “the agency filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it owed no legal duty to the married couple.”
Although the Orange County Superior Court agreed with the staffing agency, the appeals court said in the opinion that “under a negligent undertaking theory, we cannot say as a matter of law that the maintenance worker owed no legal duty. There are triable issues of material fact. We find that the trial court improperly granted summary judgment and reverse.”
The appeals court said that, despite the fact that Ramos had not ever been asked to check in on a guest before and although he had only heard one side of the phone conversation between the desk clerk and Michael O’Malley, Ramos should have sensed the potential urgency of the situation.
“The risk that Priscilla may have been lying incapacitated somewhere in the hotel room (beyond the threshold of the front door) may have been reasonably foreseeable,” the opinion said. “Therefore, the scope of Ramos’ duty may have been more than simply opening the door and peering inside what Ramos claimed was a dark room.”