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Phetteplace v. 415 Rue Dauphine, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

April 9, 2019


         SECTION "L" (2)

          ORDER & REASONS

         In this Order & Reasons, the Court considers sua sponte the applicable standard of care owed by an innkeeper to his guests. Having reviewed the considerable body of Louisiana law available to it, the Court rules as follows.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises from injuries Plaintiff Kevin Phetteplace allegedly sustained while staying as a guest at the Dauphine Orleans Hotel, a hotel owned, operated, insured, or maintained by Defendants. R. Doc. 1 at 2-4. Plaintiff, a resident of California, alleges that on April 6, 2017, he was staying with his sister as a guest in Room 310 of the Dauphine Orleans Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana, to attend a pre-wedding party for another sister. R. Doc. 1 at 3. Plaintiff asserts that on this evening he visited Pat O'Brien's bar where he and other individuals associated with the party consumed alcoholic beverages. R. Doc. 1 at 3. Plaintiff contends he returned to his hotel room at approximately 1:00 a.m. but was never intoxicated to the point of functional impairment. R. Doc. 1 at 4. At approximately 4:00 a.m., Plaintiff contends he arose, opened the door to what he believed was the bathroom, and fell over a railing, plummeting to the ground below. Id. Plaintiff alleges he was taken back to his room by hotel staff whereupon his sister took him to Tulane Medical Center for treatment. R. Doc. 1 at 4-5. As a result of his fall, Plaintiff alleges he sustained serious physical injuries, including shattering his wrist and breaking his foot. Id. Plaintiff returned to California following the incident in serious pain, where he underwent extensive wrist surgery. R. Doc. 1 at 5.

         Plaintiff alleges his fall and resulting injuries were caused by Defendants' negligence and failure to maintain the premises in a safe and habitable condition, including the absence of proper notices, warnings, and lighting, failure to have proper and sufficient locks securing the door, and inappropriate design and maintenance of the door, window, and railing area from which he fell. R. Doc. 1 at 5. Plaintiff claims he is entitled to damages for permanent physical and emotional damage, pain, suffering, impairment of enjoyment of life, disability, loss of earnings, and diminishment of earning capacity. R. Doc. 1 at 6. Additionally, Plaintiff believes he is entitled to funds for the reimbursement of his travel to and from California to New Orleans. R. Doc. 1 at 6.

         Defendants answer arguing Plaintiff has failed to state a cause of action upon which relief can be granted. R. Doc. 11 at 1. Defendants deny any negligence on their part and assert numerous defenses, including asserting Plaintiff's own negligence caused his injuries, Plaintiff's damages were more severe because he failed to mitigate his damages, and that Plaintiff's injuries were caused by pre-existing or subsequent accidents. R. Doc. 6 at 5-6.

         II. LAW & ANALYSIS

         A pivotal issue in this case is the applicable standard of care owed by a hotel or innkeeper to its guests. Plaintiff contends that, in this case, the appropriate standard is a “high degree of care and protection.” Defendant takes a different view, arguing the appropriate standard is ordinary care under the same or similar circumstances. The issue presented here is one unsettled by the Louisiana courts. Therefore, this Court must make an Erie guess.

         a. Erie Standard

         In diversity cases, such as the present case, federal courts must apply state substantive law. Ashland Chem. Inc. v. Barco Inc., 123 F.3d 261, 265 (5th Cir. 1997) (citing Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938)). In this case, Louisiana law applies. Where, as here, there is no code provision or Louisiana Supreme Court case directly on point, the court must make an “Erie guess.” Vanderbrook v. Unitrin Preferred Ins. Co., 495 F.3d 191, 206 (5th Cir. 2007). In making an Erie guess, the court must not “alter existing law or to change direction.” Jackson v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp., 781 F.2d 394, 397 (5th Cir. 1986) (en banc) (overruled, in part, on other grounds). Rather, when making an Erie guess, the court must determine, in its best judgment:

how [the Louisiana Supreme C]ourt would resolve the issue if presented with the same case. In making an Erie guess, [the court] must employ Louisiana's civilian methodology, whereby [it] first examine[s] primary sources of law: the constitution, codes, and statutes. Jurisprudence, even when it rises to the level of jurisprudence constante, is a secondary law source in Louisiana. Thus, although [the court] will not disregard the decisions of Louisiana's intermediate courts unless [it is] convinced that the Louisiana Supreme Court would decide otherwise, [it is] not strictly bound by them.

Vanderbrook, 495 F.3d at 206 (citations and quotation marks omitted).

         a. Standard of Care

         In this case, the Louisiana Supreme Court case that most closely addresses the standard of care an innkeeper owes to its guests is Kraaz v. La Quinta Motor Inns, Inc., 410 So.2d 1048 (La. 1982). In Kraaz, the Louisiana Supreme Court considered the “delictual liability of an innkeeper for an employee's negligence which is a substantial factor in the armed robbery of a guest.” Id. at 1049. While the facts of Kraaz differ from the case at bar, it is instructive, as the Louisiana Supreme Court held in Kraaz that an innkeeper owes its patrons “a high degree of care and protection.” Id. at 1053; see also Banks v. Hyatt ...

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