In October 2007, a Norwalk, California Superior Court Jury found the Value Lodge Hotel, liable for involuntarily subjecting an 8 and 9 year old sisters to hard core pornographic movies. (McCombs vs Value Lodge Enterprises Case VC 047178)
The guests, a woman from Tennessee and her 8 and 9 year old daughters, checked into the Value Lodge Hotel. After check in, the woman took a shower and told her daughters to watch television.
The daughters turned on the TV and came across a pornographic television channel, which was unprotected and could be accessed just like any other regular television channel or program. The Mother sued the Hotel for $640,000.
The Jury awarded the Mother $85,000 in damages. The Judge did not allow punitive damages in this case.
During the trial, the Mother’s Attorneys presented testimony from a Hotel Expert, who commented that in his thirty years experience, he has never seen a family hotel where some affirmative action was not necessary in order to access adult movies.
The Hotel argued that there was a sign on the television advising guests to notify the front desk if they did not want the adult movies, but the hotel could not produce a sign as evidence.
After the trial, the Jury said they did not believe the Hotel in fact had a sign or any other notification in the rooms about the adult movies.
How does this case affect Hotels with adult movies?
The facts of this case are very specific. The Hotel’s adult movies were not protected in the usual hotel “movie system”, which requires the guest to push numerous remote buttons, and pass through numerous movie / ordering screens. The adult movies at this Hotel were just one of the regular channels, the same as all of the rest of the television channels.
The Jury felt the Hotel had a “duty” to protect children from this type of unprotected and simple access to an adult movie. Remember that all lawsuits start with the neglect or failure of a “duty” that is required from one party to another. I think we all would agree that in this specific case, the Hotel did have a “duty” to prevent children from viewing adult movies.
What is your “duty” if you don’t have immediate access to adult movies, but a Hotel movie system (like LodgeNet or On Command) that requires you to select movies and go through numerous screens and buttons to order a movie?
The Norwalk Superior Court verdict tells us that Hotels do have a duty to protect children from adult movies. But the Court does not offer any guidance for other adult movie systems that are currently being used in a majority of Hotels.
I could argue that a “LodgeNet or On-Command” in room Hotel movie system is adequately protected, as the movie system requires numerous selection screens, remote button pushing and ordering screens before a movie can be ordered. There is an automatic defense in common law known as “improper parental supervision”, that can be used if a child’s parent is present, and the child gets injured or otherwise harmed. The defense to the child’s harm can be that the child “was not properly supervised” by the parent who was present. Of course the exact facts of each case would dictate what the “duty” of the Hotel was, and what the “duty” of the parents was, in those very specific circumstances.
I could also argue that if the Hotel were held liable for what a child sees on a Hotel television, then it would create a “slippery slope” for other television situations. For instance, the Animal Planet channel shows african lions attack and kill a defenseless animal during a nature program. Children could be harmed by seeing an animal they loved being mauled and eaten by another animal, so is the Hotel responsible for that situation? Or, how about a Health Channel showing a real medical operation on a person that shows blood and human body organs? This could also upset a child. As you can see, there is no simple answer to this question.
And, what about our favorite free movie channels that most Hotels carry like HBO or Showtime? HBO and Showtime are in the TV line up as regular television channels and often carry very provocative and sexual oriented programming, but these channels are not protected or blocked in any way.
So, What Should You Do?
Train your staff to ask guests at check in if they would like any of “the movies” turned off in the room. Especially if you see the guest is with children at check in, or the guest is asking for a crib etc. This includes HBO etc.
- Post a sign or small placard on the television advising the guest that the hotel has adult programming, and to call the front desk if they would like those channels blocked. Include this advisement in your guestroom directory along with all of the other Hotel, menu and attraction information.
- Turn off all adult movies to all Hotel rooms. This would require the guest to specifically call the front desk and request the movies to be turned on, which now protects you from accusations of negligence. This step will increase your front desk work load, as they will have to respond to dozens of calls every night asking for movies. This might also upset the Guest, as it becomes inconvenient to have to call for movies, so you should consider all of the consequences to having the movies turned off all of the time.
- If a Guest calls and informs you they are receiving “free movies” which they didn’t ask for or pay for, then make sure your staff reacts quickly to turn off the movies. Don’t take a guest complaint of getting “free movies” lightly. Have maintenance respond to the guest room to ensure the problem is solved.
- Regularly check your movie system to ensure it is working properly. Recently I was staying in a large hotel that was under renovation, and I was receiving all movies, including adult movies free, as I channel surfed. It was obvious that the movie system had been compromised as part of the renovation, so all of the pay movies were being broadcast to rooms without restrictions.
Todd Seiders CLSD, is Director of Risk Management, Petra Risk Solutions, Hospitality Insurance and Risk Management experts, you can contact Todd at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or (800) 466-8951.