McShane v Ballymascanlon Hotel Ltd
AN CHUIRT CHUARDA
(THE CIRCUIT COURT)
RECORD NO. 310/2005
Tort - Duty of care - Plaintiff assaulted at wedding party on defendant's hotel premises - Whether duty on defendant to employ security staff at private functions held on its premises
Judgment of His Honour Judge Bryan McMahon delivered on the 17th May, 2006
The plaintiff and his wife attended a wedding reception at the defendant hotel on 21st July, 2001. The reception was a happy affair which was enjoyed by all in attendance. The reception ended at 2 am and the plaintiff and his wife called a taxi and were waiting outside the hotel. They were accompanied by Mr. McShane's brother and his wife. They were waiting some twenty minutes chatting among themselves. A party of three men and two women came out from the reception and passed the plaintiff and walked some thirty to forty yards towards the car park. For no apparent reason, the two women in this party then turned back towards the plaintiff and approached Mrs. McShane and her sister-in-law and began to assault them without warning, hitting them and pulling their hair. Mr. McShane, moved to intervene, but before he could do so, he was assaulted from behind by the three men in the party. He was thumped on the back of the head and knocked to the ground where he was kicked on several occasions. At that moment the taxi arrived and the persons who committed the assault ran down the avenue of the hotel towards the car park. Mr. McShane suffered injuries to his ribs which cleared up after about twelve
months and also injury to his back which continued to give him trouble up to the time of the trial. He also suffered a burst lip which although it had healed left an irritating lump on the inside of his mouth. There was also damage to the mandibular joint in his jaw.
The plaintiff was taken to hospital that night by his brother and he complained to the Hotel next morning.
In cross examination the plaintiff and his wife indicated that they had been invited by the bride's family to the wedding and the day was a happy occasion for all concerned. The plaintiff and his wife had been at the church earlier in the day and came to the reception about 4pm. After the meal, the tables were cleared and there was dancing to a live band. There was a couple of hundred at the wedding. Additional guests joined the party after the meal.
The plaintiff sued the hotel claiming that it had breached its duty to take reasonable care for the welfare and safety of the patrons. In particular, the plaintiff claimed that the hotel should have had bouncers or security men at the door of the function room to ensure that there would be no disturbance and to intervene in the event of rowdy or disruptive behaviour.
The facts as related above were not disputed by the defendant who fought the case on the basis that it had no duty to employ bouncers or security men on the occasion in question and its failure to do so did not amount to negligence in law. The hotel acknowledged that there was a duty on it to take reasonable care in the circumstances for the safety of its patrons while on or around the premises, but contested that there was any breach of duty on the occasion in question. The question for deliberation therefore is what is the duty of the hotel in cases such as this? What
is the duty of the hotel for the acts of third parties, that is, persons who are not the servants or agents of the hotel itself who assault patrons of the hotel while on the hotel premises?
To determine whether there was a breach of the duty to take reasonable care, one must have regard to the relevant facts which are not in dispute and which I now identify.
1. The function at which the plaintiff attended was a private wedding party which was held in a function room attached to the main hotel. It was a well planned affair and the premises had been booked many months in advance. The manager of the hotel gave evidence that it was hotel policy never to provide security at such private functions unless specifically requested to do so by the bride and groom. Such security might be required in very unusual circumstances, but the hotel itself would never suggest it as it would not be tactful to do so and could well offend the bride and groom if offered. This was especially so because the bride and groom were from Northern Ireland and they might take offence if security was suggested.
2. The only persons attending the wedding function were there by invitation from the bride and groom. This in itself ensured that it was likely to be an orderly and well behaved group of people. It also would have an inhibiting effect on the proceedings as all the invitees were known to, and vouched for in advance by the bride and groom at least.
3. There was no evidence of excessive consumption of alcohol at the function. The guests were given a free drink to toast the bride and
groom but all other alcohol had to be paid for. It was not a free bar situation.
4. All the evidence was to the effect that the reception was an unqualified success. After the meal there was dancing to a local band and everyone enjoyed themselves. In short it was a well run affair and there was no evidence of over indulgence.
5. The reception was held in a function room separate from the main part of the hotel. This function room had its own entrance from the front of the hotel, although it could also be accessed from the main hotel itself.
6. The main exit from the function room ensured that patrons leaving the function did not have to go through the hotel. It also meant that persons leaving...
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