Massachusetts Court of Appeal Looks at Hotel Bathtub Slip and Fall

In Massachusetts premises liability cases, the injured person must show that the owner or manager of a property failed to uphold the duty to use reasonable care to keep the premises safe. Typical scenarios are when someone slips and falls on a substance or harms themselves because of a hazardous condition. The injured person must show that the owner knew or should have known about the substance or condition, in addition to demonstrating the owner or manager had the duty to either remove the hazard or warn patrons.

In a recent decision, Simas vs. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. (16-P-158), the Massachusetts Appeals Court looked at whether or not an amended pleading was appropriately denied in a hotel slip and fall lawsuit. The injured man fell in the shower during a stay. The injured guest initially alleged that the defendants were negligent by allowing a defective soap and shampoo dispenser to remain in the room he occupied.  More than a year after the case was filed, the defendants moved for summary judgment against the injured hotel guest. Six months after this motion was filed, the injured guest attempted to amend his complaint, switching from the argument that the defective soap dispenser leaked soap, causing him to fall, to alleging the hotel was negligent in their design, construction, and maintenance of the shower floor. The amended complaint also alleged the hotel’s shower floor did not meet the reasonable standards of slip resistance, and the hotel was negligent by failing to provide a bath mat or grab bar to prevent slipping.

The trial court denied the motion to amend, arguing that an amendment changing the theory of liability two years after filing would unduly prejudice the defendants. The injured guest pursued a defense against the summary judgment, which caused a further delay in the proceedings. The injured guest pointed to architectural drawings found in the discovery that revealed the hotel’s intent to renovate the bathrooms in order to make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The appellate court acknowledged how that may have factored into the injured man’s decision to amend the complaint, but it pointed out that the discovery with this information was available early in the proceedings. The court did not feel that this excused the prejudicial delay. The appellate court pointed to the lack of information with the amended complaint that would have enlightened the trial court as to whether the modifications to the bathrooms specifically addressed slippery bathtub surfaces. The court cited Massachusetts case law, which permits a trial court to deny a motion to amend if there’s an unexcused delay.

The appellate court also addressed the trial court’s award of summary judgment. The court agreed with the defendants and the trial court that there was no proof that the hotel was aware of the leaking soap dispensers in the showers. If there’s no knowledge, there is no duty to warn of potential dangers. The appellate court affirmed the ruling of the trial court, and the dismissal was upheld.

Simas demonstrates the need for an experienced Massachusetts personal injury lawyer at your side. The attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan have the personal injury experience to tackle all of the aspects of litigation, from a deep understanding and knowledge of the law to an awareness of the procedural deadlines that must be followed in all civil actions. Call our office today for a free, confidential consultation at 508.822.6600.

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