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Case Study: Social Media Investigation Uncovers Unsafe Conditions at Hotel Pool

hotel pool

Premises claims are complex cases that require plaintiffs’ counsel to track a series of events leading up to their client’s injury. While counsel can benefit when sites are preserved or when witnesses corroborate a plaintiff’s version of events, they must more often contend with accident scenes that have been altered in some way and with defendants who dispute essential elements of a plaintiff’s claim.

Sometimes, personal injury lawyers who handle premises cases face off against defendants who conceal or misrepresent material facts. In these situations, as illustrated in a case handled by Biren Law Group, creative investigation can uncover the truth.

Case Facts

Biren Law Group represented a Plaintiff who slipped on a wet marble floor located in an entryway that connected a hotel pool to the hotel. Prior to the accident, which occurred on a hot summer day, the Plaintiff was outside by the pool and had seen people entering the hotel from the pool area while wet.

As a result of the slip and fall, the Plaintiff suffered a back injury which necessitated a lumbar fusion surgery. She incurred medical expenses and other economic and non-economic losses.

Plaintiff Argument

The Plaintiff’s claim alleged that the hotel was liable for damages because it had failed to uphold its duty of care to maintain a safe premises and pool area.

The Plaintiff further claimed that:

  1. The hotel did not have a sign or posted warning about wet floors at the time of the incident.
  2. The hotel should have placed a large mat down near the entryway to absorb water brought in by people who entered the hotel after using the pool.

Defense Argument

In response to the Plaintiff’s claims, the Defendant hotel argued that:

  1. A sign was present at the time of the incident.
  2. The hotel never used a mat to absorb water near the entryway and that one was not needed.

The Defense additionally argued that the Plaintiff had prior notice of the water on the floor and perhaps even helped create the dangerous condition by making the tile wet and slippery. Certainly, the Plaintiff had watched people enter and exit the pool area from the hotel and knew there was water on the floor.

Lastly, the Defense pointed to a photo taken subsequent to the incident which they alleged showed that a sign was present to warn patrons.

Case Issues: Negligence & Adequate Warning

Like other premises liability cases, swimming pool accident claims require plaintiffs to prove that a defendant failed to uphold their duty to exercise reasonable care in maintaining a safe premises. Generally, this means proving a defendant was negligent because they failed to fix, protect against, or adequately warn guests about unsafe conditions on their property that posed foreseeable risks of harm.

As such, the Plaintiff’s case was hinged on two key issues:

  1. Whether the defendant took reasonable measures to maintain a safe premises.
  2. Whether the defendant had a posted sign at the time of the incident to adequately warn guests about wet floors.

Read more about the key elements of a premises liability case.

Facebook Investigation Exposes Defendant’s Misrepresentations

Following initial discovery and interviews with its client, who maintained that there was no sign posted at the time of the incident, Biren Law Group turned its investigatory efforts to avenues beyond the traditional premises accident investigation – namely, social media.

As part of its social media investigation, Biren Law Group combed through Facebook to identify public images posted by users who had ‘tagged’ themselves at the hotel and who may have captured images showing the hotel pool area and the entryway where the Plaintiff’s accident took place.

This proved to be a tedious and time-consuming task, as many photos did not show the two areas in question. Additionally, images that did depict the pool and entryway required careful scrutiny, as they were taken at various dates and often showed those areas partially in the background and ancillary to the actual subjects being photographed – a far cry from the focused photos taken during formal site inspections.

Though sifting through thousands of tagged photos was mind-numbing work, it proved incredibly helpful. Biren Law Group was ultimately able to identify numerous photos which showed that:

  • The hotel had in fact used a mat to prevent slips on hot summer days, indicating that it knew (i.e. had construction notice) that wet guests who entered the hotel from the pool created an unsafe condition; and
  • No sign was actually present on the date of the accident.

Though the Defense had initially raised arguments to dispute its liability, such as stating that the Plaintiff had prior notice of the dangerous condition because they saw wet guests walking through the entryway and that the Plaintiff possibly created the dangerous condition herself, evidence uncovered from Facebook decimated any potential for a viable defense.

Further, the investigation proved that the Defense fraudulently misrepresented that a sign was present at the time of the incident (when photos from the date of the accident showed there was no sign) and that it had never used a mat near the entryway (when multiple photos showed that a mat had been used in the past, including on hot summer days).

Following the discovery of this damning evidence, the case was resolved for nearly $1 million.

Key Lessons From This Case

The fate of premises liability cases often hinge on the ability of plaintiffs’ counsel to perform thorough investigations. Sometimes, those investigations extend beyond formal discovery and document exchange and into the realm of social media, where there may exist troves of public photos and statements posted by parties unrelated to the case.

Because of its creative investigation and willingness to comb through thousands of images in which users tagged the hotel, Biren Law Group was able to uncover evidence that the Defendant had in fact lied about two critical issues in the case – the reasonability of its efforts to maintain a safe premises and the posting of an adequate warning for guests. This evidence allowed BLG attorneys to dismantle the Defense’s arguments and gain leverage to negotiate a sizeable settlement for their client.