E-Alert Case Updates
Hotel patron has no right to contractual damages for elevator defect causing injury.
Freeman v. Doubletree by Hilton
On June 26, 2012, Cheryl Freeman was a guest at a Doubletree hotel. While riding the hotel elevator, the elevator became disabled and stopped between two (2) floors. The Doubletree employees opened the doors and encouraged the occupants to jump to the floor several feet below. When Freeman jumped, she landed on the floor and her knees buckled, causing her to fall onto the floor and suffer personal injuries. At the time, Doubletree had a contract with Atlantic Blueridge Elevator Company (“Atlantic”) for the repair and maintenance of the elevators (“Contract”).
Freeman filed suit against both Doubletree by Hilton (“Doubletree”) and Atlantic, in the Circuit Court of Norfolk seeking recovery for her personal injuries. Freeman alleged that she was a third-party beneficiary of the Contract, and was therefore entitled to recover from Atlantic for its failure to maintain and repair the elevator properly and reasonably. Atlantic filed a demurrer, and Freeman was permitted to amend her complaint on three (3) separate occasions, each time to amend the allegations in support of the breach of contract claim. Atlantic demurred as to the Third Amended Complaint (“Complaint”), arguing that Freeman failed to plead sufficiently that Atlantic breached the Contract, failed to plead sufficiently her claim as a third-party beneficiary, and that the injuries pled were not contract damages but were the result of the intervening cause of the Doubletree employees.
The Trial Court first reviewed the Complaint and held that Freeman had pled sufficiently the breach of contract claim. The Complaint alleged that Atlantic had a duty to repair and maintain the elevators that arose from the contract, and failed to satisfactorily complete those duties.
The Court, however, noted that Freeman had not pled sufficiently that she was a third-party beneficiary of the Contract. The Court noted that the “essence of a third-party beneficiary’s claim is that others have agreed between themselves to bestow a benefit upon the third party but one of the parties to the agreement fails to uphold his portion of the bargain.” Citing Copenhaver v. Rogers, 238 Va. 361, 367, 384 S.E.2d 593, 596 (1989). Third-Party beneficiary status does not exist if the benefit is only incidental to the Contract, not “clearly and definitely” agreed to in the Contract. The Court held that Freeman had failed to plead facts that showed that the Contract, which was attached to the Complaint, was intended to bestow a benefit on Freeman. “Absent express language in the Contract demonstrating that the contracting parties intended Freeman to be a contractual beneficiary, this Court cannot, based on the facts alleged and in light of the Contract, […] find that Freeman sufficiently pleaded that she is a third-party beneficiary of the Contract.”
Moreover, even if she had pled adequately her status as a third-party beneficiary, she was not entitled to recovery under the contract. The alleged damages that she sustained were not a result of the failure to maintain the elevators, but were the result of the Doubletree’s employees’ actions, over which Atlantic had no control. Freeman was also barred from seeking tort damages for the breach of contract claim, since there were no facts that supported the breach of a common law duty by Atlantic related to the Contract.
The Court sustained the demurrer, dismissing the breach of contract claim, and did not grant Plaintiff leave to file another amended complaint.
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