Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Hotelier liability for acts of hotel security staff

The apparent murder of David Hookes raises several interesting legal questions.

One is how easily his alleged assailant, Zvradco Micevic, got bail. Two is whether Micevic should have immediately been charged with murder, after Hookes’ death. Another, looking down the track at what sort of a trial Micevic might get, is this:

Victoria's Director of Public Prosecutions, Paul Coghlan QC, expressed concern yesterday about the publicity and conjecture surrounding the death of Hookes.

The angle I find most intriguing, though, is the fact that hoteliers seem to be able to avoid any liability for the acts of security staff on (or adjacent to) their premises, simply by not being party to any employment contract with them. I haven’t checked the specifics of this, but this fact adds weight to the argument: Melbourne law firm Slater & Gordon is pursuing damages on behalf of more than 50 clients who claim to have been assaulted by bouncers. In other words, getting hoteliers to pay up (the security firms that actually employ the bouncers are likely to be $2 companies) is being run as speculative class-action, which, judging by the large-ish number of plaintiffs, together with the lack of (reported) progress on the case, all means that the action is sitting in a bottom-drawer to nowhere.

Rather than tightening-up licensing, etc of licensed-premises security staff, it seems to me a far more effective reform would be to legislatively entrench hotelier liability for the acts of any staff based on their premises, by deeming all such staff to be under the hotelier’s effective supervision (irregardless of what the actual employment contract may say).

This is merely sane and fair, anyway – no one else can supervise those security staff, and supervision is plainly what they need. (I’m not saying that bouncers can, or should be shadowed in their every move – but if Micevic did do what he is alleged to have done, I’d bet my life that the guy had previously exhibited tendencies of this ilk while on the job, right under the hotelier’s nose (and eyes and ears)).

And as an enforcement-oomph bonus to my hotelier liability proposal, hoteliers are usually in the money. As well the pricey freehold or leasehold they own (which becomes the booty in a civil action, in addition to any insurance coverage), the liquor license in the hotelier’s name (and its withdrawal or suspension) provides the state with the regulatory means to ensure that a hotelier who doesn’t adequately supervise their premises’ staff gets well and truly (if metaphorically) walloped in the gutter – just as they should.

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