Hotel is not liable in death

Judge clears Courtyard in fatal shooting of teen

Events were `unforeseeable' acts

Lawsuit is tossed out

notice of appeal filed


August 06, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

A Howard County judge has tossed out a lawsuit seeking to hold a Columbia hotel accountable for the January 2001 shooting death of a teenager who attended a party there, saying the hotel was not obliged to protect the revelers from "unforeseeable criminal acts by a third party."

The ruling, issued by Howard Circuit Judge James B. Dudley late last month, marked a second setback in efforts to hold someone culpable for the violent death of Long Reach High School senior Andre D. Corinaldi, 18. A Jessup man who had been charged in the shooting was acquitted of murder and other counts after an eight-day jury trial in September 2001.

But a lawyer for Corinaldi's parents - who sued the Courtyard by Marriott hotel and its parent company, Marriott International, after their son's death - said the case against the hotel, with its peculiar set of facts and questions about the duty of care that innkeepers owe their guests, is prime for appeal. A notice of appeal to Maryland's intermediate appellate court was filed Monday.

Dudley also acknowledged in his ruling granting Marriott a summary judgment that the case appears to be a novel one for Maryland.

Stacie F. Dubnow, who represents the Corinaldi family, said she is hoping to convince appellate judges of one of two things: that there is a "special relationship" between innkeepers and guests that requires them to protect guests and invitees from being harmed by others; or that the hotel's response, or lack thereof, to a series of events leading up to the shooting was negligent - and contributed to Corinaldi's death.

"The question is, is that a safe situation? What should a reasonable hotel have done under the circumstances, and did this hotel do enough?" said Dubnow, who asked Dudley to allow a jury to determine liability. "The jury needs to decide whether the steps the hotel took that night were reasonable."

But Marriott attorney Mark T. Mixter said Maryland's appellate courts have clearly laid out the building blocks needed to hold a property owner liable for some third party's criminal actions.

There is no case, he said, unless similar incidents have occurred on the property in the past, putting the hotel on notice that there is a potential for problems.

"Basically, you need to show that this had happened before - or something close to it," he said. "We don't have that."

Corinaldi was killed and another teen, Lauren Nicole Perkins, was seriously injured after an argument turned violent during a surprise 18th birthday party in adjoining rooms at the hotel Jan. 13, 2001.

Neither Corinaldi, who arrived at the party less than 15 minutes before the shooting, nor Perkins, who survived with what her lawyers have said are lasting injuries, was involved in the dispute that preceded the shooting, authorities have said.

Perkins and her family have also filed suit against Courtyard alleging negligence. It was unclear this week what impact Dudley's ruling would have on that case, which is scheduled for a motions hearing Sept. 10.

Witnesses would later tell authorities and lawyers that there were more than 30 people, most of them teenagers, jammed into the two rooms and that the front desk received complaints that the revelers were entering the hotel through a side door that had been propped open and the guests were becoming nervous, according to pleadings filed by Dubnow.

The hotel had two employees working that night, and they were concerned enough about the party that they called a manager several times to ask for advice, according to court documents.

Still, no one closely monitored the festivities despite a no-party policy, and although the manager told the on-site employees to shut the party down at 10:30 p.m., no one told Corinaldi, who passed by the hotel's front desk about 10:45 p.m., that he couldn't go to the rooms, according to Dubnow's pleadings.

"The situation was not safe; the hotel was not secure, and guests were left unprotected. Under these circumstances, it was foreseeable that a guest would be injured," Dubnow wrote.

In pleadings, Mixter questioned several of the Corinaldi family's claims about the party and the actions of hotel employees, but said none of the alleged evidence has "one iota of relevance to the issue" when there were no prior incidents at Courtyard that could have helped predict that there might be a shooting that night.

Dubnow, who said she is hoping to "make the law in this area," said Corinaldi's mother, Jennifer, is hoping that the case puts hotels on notice that if they allow unsupervised parties on their property, they do so at their own risk.

"There is no amount of money that can make things right again. She is heartbroken," Dubnow said. " ... She doesn't want him to have died in vain."

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