In a landmark opinion issued yesterday, the Colorado Supreme Court held that the Westin Hotel, Tabor Center, may be held legally responsible for evicting a heavily intoxicated guest into conditions in which it was foreseeable that she would be injured. The guest, Jillian Groh, and several of her friends had planned to spend an evening bar hopping in Denver on the night of March 3, 2007. Because members of the group anticipated that they would be drinking, they booked a room at the Westin Denver Downtown, which is located at 16th and Lawrence. Multiple Westin witnesses testified that they routinely accommodate guests who plan to retire there after bar hopping, and Westin in its advertisements touts its proximity to various Denver bars and drinking establishments. Although Groh was the only registered guest, Westin personnel also issued room keys to two of Groh’s friends when they checked in that afternoon.
As they had planned to do, Groh and her friends spent their evening out on the town. They returned to the Westin at around 2:30 a.m. and retired to their room on the 17th floor. Although the two adjacent rooms were occupied, Westin personnel received no noise complaints from anyone on the 17th floor. Nevertheless, a Westin security guard, claiming to have heard noise from his location two floors above, contacted the room containing Groh and her friends. In the minutes that followed, the guard breached multiple Westin policies and established industry standards by entering the room without permission and essentially initiating a confrontation with Groh and her friends. The encounter ended with Groh and her friends being evicted from the Westin in the middle of the night, notwithstanding the fact that members of the group repeatedly told Westin personnel that they were intoxicated and had nowhere else to go. Although Westin personnel attempted to argue that they summoned Denver police officers to assist with the eviction, evidence showed that the Westin had, in fact, evicted Groh and her friends without police involvement. Westin personnel also refused to allow Groh and her friends to wait in the hotel lobby while they summoned a taxi. As the group was leaving the hotel, one of Groh’s friends asked the guard who initiated the confrontation whether the group could remain in the lobby to wait for a taxi, since the temperature outside was below freezing and Groh and most of her friends were not suitably dressed to wait in such weather. The guard’s response was, “No, get the fuck out of here.”
Groh and her friends subsequently headed toward the Westin parking garage, where Groh had parked her PT Cruiser when she first arrived at the Westin. One of Groh’s friends, Angela Reed, volunteered to drive the group back to Groh’s apartment in Aurora. Believing that Reed was sober enough to drive (Reed had been separated from the group for much of the evening), Groh allowed her to do so. While on I-225 near the Parker Road exit, the group encountered a slow-moving vehicle that was towing a second vehicle with a flat tire. Reed collided with the rear of the vehicle. A toxicologist later estimated that Reed’s BAC was between .170 and .222 at the time of the collision. Groh, who was in the back seat, suffered a massive traumatic brain injury and is now in a vegetative state from which she will never recover. Another passenger, Mike Martin, died in the accident.
“Based on the special relationship that exists between an innkeeper and guest, we hold that a hotel that evicts a guest has a duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances,” Justice Hood wrote for the Colorado Supreme Court. “This requires the hotel to refrain from evicting an intoxicated guest into a foreseeably dangerous environment. Whether a foreseeably dangerous environment existed at the time of eviction depends on the guest’s physical state and the conditions into which he or she was evicted, including the time, the surroundings, and the weather.”
Alan C. Shafner is lead counsel for Jillian Groh and the Groh family. John F. Poor of Heideman Poor, LLC assisted on the briefing and conducted the oral argument before the Colorado Supreme Court. The Court’s ruling means that the case will proceed to trial – likely later this year or early next year.
“The Groh family is extremely thankful to the Colorado Supreme Court for recognizing that hotels have a special relationship with their guests, which includes a responsibility to use reasonable care when evicting guests into circumstances in which they are likely to suffer harm,” Shafner said. “Jillian made a responsible choice by booking a hotel room so that she could enjoy downtown Denver in a safe manner,” he added. “She was injured because Westin employees made disastrous choices.”
“All Jillian’s parents have asked for is to have their day in court. Thanks to this ruling, they will get that opportunity.”