La Quinta Inns, Inc. v. Leech

658 S.E.2d 637 (2008)


Before his death, Mr. Leech had lived in Room 322 of the hotel for about six months while separated from his wife. On May 20, 2004, he had dinner with his girlfriend, his adult son, James, and his long-time friend, John. James and John were both in town to attend the high school graduation of Mr. and Mrs. Leech's daughter, Ashley. After dinner, the group decided to go to a bar. Ashley and her boyfriend met up with the group in the bar's parking lot. When Ashley saw her father with his girlfriend, she became upset and confronted her father about his affair. Mr. Leech returned to the hotel shortly after midnight and had a brief conversation with Cotton, the front desk manager. Mr. Leech returned to the front desk to book a room for John.  He specifically requested a smoking room. Cotton gave him a room on the seventh floor, where all of the hotel's smoking rooms were located. Mr. Leech and Cotton had a friendly conversation about Ashley's graduation the next day and his friend's visit. Mr. Leech was calm and cheerful when he left the front desk. James and John also went to the hotel after they left the bar. They asked Cotton for Mr. Leech's room number. Cotton called Mr. Leech's room and inform him of their presence. There was no answer in room 322, so she then called him in Room 721. Mr. Leech answered the phone, instructed Cotton not to give out his room numbers, and told her that he would call his son on his cell phone. Mr. Leech called his son and invited his son up to his room, but James declined, saying that he and John had other plans for the night. After a few minutes of “normal” conversation, Mr. Leech began talking strangely. James realized Mr. Leech may harm himself. James covered his cell phone and told John to get help because his father was talking about harming himself. John demanded that Cotton give them Mr. Leech's room number, summon hotel security, and call 911 because he was threatening to harm himself. James continued his conversation to keep him on the telephone until help arrived. James testified that his father was calm, that he joked with him, and that he talked excitedly about Ashley's graduation party, his grandchildren, and his plans to move to Florida. James yelled at Cotton to “Stop fucking around and get us the room number or get help.” Mr. Leech heard the demand and said, “it would be over before [he] got [there],” and then the call ended. Cotton called 911 at 1:27 a.m. At 1:34 a.m., two police officers arrived at the hotel. The officers asked Cotton where Mr. Leech was. Cotton was on the telephone and did not respond immediately. After that delay, Cotton told the officers that Mr. Leech stayed in Room 322, that he had just rented Room 721, and that she did not know which room he was in. She did not mention that, when she had last spoken with Mr. Leech, he was in Room 721. The officers and John went to Room 322; James went alone to Room 721. As James approached Room 721 at 1:38 a.m., he heard his father talking on the phone. James knocked on the door, and, after getting no response, he kicked the door open. No one was in the room. James looked through the open window and saw his father's body on the ground below. There is no direct evidence regarding whether Mr. Leech jumped or fell to his death. P sued Ds. There were no signs that Mr. Leech was suicidal. The first indication that Mr. Leech was upset came 14 minutes before Cotton called 911 when Mr. Leech told James that he was sorry. P alleges that Cotton, acting as La Quinta's agent, negligently failed to timely intervene and that La Quinta failed to provide adequate staffing, safety standards, and training in responding to emergencies. Finding the possibility of an accidental slip or trip and fall “purely speculative,” the trial court granted Ds' motion for summary judgment.