7/3/2014 10:00:00 AM,
Jeff D. Gorman
(CN) - The Texas hotel that employed a bellman who sexually abused a young guest must face negligence claims, a state appeals court ruled.
On a trip to Galveston Island in summer 2008, William M. and his two sons stayed at The Flagship Hotel, which marketed itself as family friendly.
As they were checking in, William's 15-year-old son, S.M., noticed that the bellman was mouthing words to him and nodding his head upward.
The bellman approached S.M. later that day as the boy was alone, wandering the premises and smoking a cigarette. Offering S.M. a supposedly better place to finish his smoke, the bellman led S.M. into the hotel's empty banquet room and turned off the lights.
As S.M. sat at a table beside a small window to avoid being in the dark, the bellman exposed his penis and offered the teen money to touch it.
When S.M. refused, the bellman forced S.M.'s hand onto his penis. S.M. removed his hand, but the bellman masturbated and ejaculated on the table. S.M. fled and the police were summoned.
The hotel had hired the bellman less than three months earlier and did not conduct a criminal background check, which would have revealed convictions for theft, assault, drug possession and evading arrest.
His record also included two counts of indecency with a child, for fondling the breasts of a 15-year-old girl and exposing himself to a 14-year-old girl.
In addition, the bellman had been cited six other times for sexual misconduct.
S.M.'s mother, Mindi M., sued the hotel on her son's behalf for negligent hiring, retention and supervision, breach of contract and gross negligence.
The trial court dismissed her case, but the Houston-based 14th Texas Court of Appeals reinstated her negligence-based claims on June 26.
"The hotel did not perform any sort of pre-employment background check in this case," Justice Tracy Christopher wrote for a three-member panel. "Instead, it relied solely on the recommendation of another employee when it hired the bellman. The Hotel suggests that it acted reasonably because the industry standard only requires background checks on upper level employees, such as managers. This is a question of fact for the jury to decide."
There is also evidence that S.M. suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from the incident, and a psychologist said S.M. was driven into drug addiction, according to the ruling.
"Before the incident, S.M. struggled somewhat with depression and drugs, but after the abuse, his drug dependencies were greatly exacerbated," Christopher wrote. "S.M. began using hard drugs, including methamphetamines, 'to escape his thoughts and numb his emotional pain.'"