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Negligent Undertaking: In Re. Didn't Really Check the Hotel Room

Priscilla O'Malley checked into a hotel room, but her husband started to worry when she didn't answer her phone.

After making many calls, he contacted the hotel clerk to find out if his wife was alright. A hospitality worker went to check, but he didn't see her inside.

Mrs. O'Malley, lying alone on the floor of the darkened room for the next 10 hours, had suffered a brain aneurysm. In O'Malley v. Hospitality Staffing Solutions, an appeals court said the hospitality service might be liable for her injuries the during that time.

Summary Judgment

O'Malley survived, but lost some of her memory, balance, and other capabilities. A doctor said she would not have so impaired if she had been treated earlier. She and her husband sued for negligence and loss of consortium.

A trial judge had granted a summary judgment motion for Hospital Staffing Solutions, which provided general maintenance at the Capistrano Beach hotel. The judge said the company had no duty to the O'Malley's.

They appealed, and the California Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed. The judicial panel said there were disputed, material facts that a jury will have to consider.

"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 appeals court said in vacating the judgment and returning the case to the trial court.

Negligent Undertaking

The maintenance worker may have assumed a duty when he opened the door and peered inside, the judges said. A jury may decide that he knew he was checking to see if the guest was alright.

"Ordinarily, a person has no legal duty to come to the aid of another," the appeals courts acknowledged. "But if a person does come to the aid of another, and does so without exercising reasonable care, that person may be responsible for any damages caused under a 'negligent undertaking' theory of liability."

The Fourth District cited Bloomberg v. Interinsurance Exchange, which involved a tow trucker driver who didn't respond to a driver in distress. Meanwhile, a drunk driver struck the disabled car and killed a passenger.

California's Second District court held that once the auto club agreed to render aid, it assumed a duty to do so in a non-negligent manner.

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