Hotel Narrowly Escapes Liability In Sex Trafficking Death
This article is upsetting. Today, hotels are frequently used by sex traffickers to arrange for meetups with johns. In some cases, hotels have been sued on the basis of knowingly allowing sex trafficking to occur and failing to report it to authorities. These cases have largely been successful. However, they each involved living victims. This one did not.
In this case, a 16-year-old girl died of a drug overdose. The hotel was sued but the court ruled that because the 16-year-old girl had “committed a felony” at the time. Florida law prevents hotels from being sued when the plaintiff is committing a felony.
While it makes sense to prevent individuals from filing lawsuits against hotels if they overdose on their premises, this is certainly not the type of case that falls under this banner. The girl was not “committing a felony” so much as she was being forced to use drugs in order to keep her dependent on a pimp. By the time the judge had rendered this decision, a pimp had already been identified. Attorneys for the hotel successfully argued that the death was still based on the commission of a felony.
The court held the girl liable for her own death even though she was a 16-year-old sex trafficking victim.
The law doesn’t care about what’s more important. It is a machine. Legislators are supposed to care about that. But legislators represent their constituents. If their constituents are more concerned about being sued than sex trafficking, then they’ll be interested in passing laws that prohibit certain types of lawsuits. While the law makes sense and most states have similar laws, the law was not meant to protect hotels from allegations related to sex trafficking.
Lawsuits filed against hotels allege that the hotel was aware of the material conditions surrounding the victim and chose to ignore it. In most cases, it can be rather obvious. You have non-hotel customers visiting the same room over and over. Older man, younger woman. Hotels do have a duty of care under the law to protect guests from abuse. Ultimately, the court could have recognized that the hotel failed in their duty of care to protect a child and it was not the child’s choice to take the drugs. The court simply didn’t.
Why should the case have moved forward?
The plaintiffs did not allege that the drug overdose was the cause of the wrongful death. They alleged that the material circumstances involving sex trafficking led to the wrongful death. The hotel is at least partly responsible for those circumstances, or the plaintiffs should have had the opportunity to make that argument.
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