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Back in December, my colleague Greg posted “Premises Security 101,” noting the increased attention our clients were paying to premises security issues. As it turns out, they were right to do so. Less than two months later, on February 7, 2011, a King County jury decided that Denny’s owed three plaintiffs $46.4 million in total for injuries sustained when a patron shot into a Denny’s Restaurant in Kent with a semiautomatic gun. According to plaintiffs’ attorney Ron Perey, this was the largest personal injury verdict ever rendered in the State of Washington; however, Denny’s insurance company settled the case for $13 million before the jury delivered its damage award.

Just to be clear, the man who shot plaintiffs Steve Tolenoa, Lisa Beltran-Walker and Carl Walker was not employed by or otherwise related to Denny’s or its management or the owner of that particular Denny’s. Frank Evans was a violent drunk guy who showed up after the bars closed, picked a fight with another patron, lost it, got mad, left and came back with a Glock .40, which he used to shoot up the restaurant (11 bullets). Mr. Evans was convicted on multiple counts of first-degree assault and is currently serving a 62 year sentence in state prison.

Given the recent attention paid by clients to local security issues (including the recent and well received Hotel Industry Security Forum sponsored with the Washington Lodging Association – see Ruth Walter’s recent post on this event), I thought it a good time to review the obligations imposed by law on hoteliers and restaurateurs in Washington and Oregon to protect their guests and customers from crimes committed by third parties.  In other words, what responsibility does a hotel or restaurant owner have for guests or customers who are injured (or whose property is damaged or stolen) by criminals.  As I explain below, the more a hotel or restaurant owners knows about potential criminal conduct at her establishment, the more likely it is that she may be held responsible for not warning and/or protecting her guests or clients against it.

This week, the Washington Lodging Association (WLA) brought together law enforcement officers, intelligence analysts and advisors from the Washington State Fusion Center and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to discuss hotel security, particularly in the context of terrorist attacks and large-scale natural disasters.

A pair of recently effected state laws makes clear that information security remains a significant issue that receives and will continue to receive considerable legislative and commercial attention. Hoteliers, restaurateurs and others in the hospitality industry use personally identifiable information (PII) of their guests and customers to improve services and create a personalized experience.

Greg and I attended the annual Hospitality Law Conference in Houston this February, which devoted an entire track to data privacy issues. It’s the definition of a hot topic, and important, so please take note!

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About the Editor

Greg Duff founded and chairs Foster Garvey’s national Hospitality, Travel & Tourism group. His practice largely focuses on operations-oriented matters faced by hospitality industry members, including sales and marketing, distribution and e-commerce, procurement and technology. Greg also serves as counsel and legal advisor to many of the hospitality industry’s associations and trade groups, including AH&LA, HFTP and HSMAI.

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