Always be prepared for business travel, and expect the unexpected. Like many, I am a traveler that generally forgets to pack a needed item when I take a business trip. It’s usually something harmless like a toothbrush, toothpaste or portable thermal pots. When this happens, though, I’m always grateful for the complimentary toiletries the hotel keeps in its closet behind the front desk. During such wayward journeys, I often think of the hotel as a supplier of necessities. After reading the recent case of Hammond v. John Q. Hammons Hotels Mgmt., No. CIV-09-652-M, 2010 WL 302233 (W.D. Okla. Jan. 20, 2010), I will never think of a hotel as a “supplier” again.
In that case, the Plaintiff, an Oklahoma City dental hygienist, was traveling with her husband to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Id. at *1. As Mrs. Hammond was preparing to iron a wrinkled garment, she reached for the clothes iron. The court recounted what followed:
As Plaintiff slid the clothes iron’s plug into the socket in her hotel room, the plug exploded in her right hand and a ball of fire shot out from the wall. As a result of the explosion, plaintiff’s hand was charred and her hand and arm were electrocuted, causing neurological damage.
The plaintiff then brought a products liability action against the hotel company under a strict liability theory. Id. The parties agreed that Arkansas law should apply to determine whether the hotel could be held strictly liable. Id. On that point, the Arkansas code states that:
[a] supplier of a product is subject to liability in damages for harm to a person or to property if: (1) The supplier is engaged in the business of manufacturing, assembling, selling, leasing, or otherwise distributing the product; (2) The product was supplied by him or her in a defective condition that rendered it unreasonably dangerous; and (3) The defective condition was a proximate cause of the harm to a person or to property.
Ark.Code. Ann. § 4-86-102(a) (2009).
The hotel company contended that the plaintiff’s complaint failed to satisfy the second statutory element. That is, the hotel argued that it was not engaged in the business of manufacturing, assembling, selling, leasing, or otherwise distributing the clothes iron that was at issue in the case. The Arkansas Code defines the term “supplier” as follows:
(6)(A) “Supplier” means any individual or entity engaged in the business of selling a product, whether the sale is for resale or for use or
(B) “Supplier” includes a retailer, wholesaler, or distributor and also includes a lessor or bailor engaged in the business of
leasing or bailment of a product.
(C) “Supplier” shall not include any licensee, as the term is defined in § 17-42-103(10), who is providing only brokerage and sales services under a license;….
Ark.Code Ann. § 16-116-102(6) (2009).
In analyzing whether the hotel was a supplier under the statute, the court looked to the plain and ordinary meaning of the statutory term. Id. at *2. The court ultimately found that the hotel was not a supplier; its conclusion turned upon its finding that the hotel was not a wholesaler or supplier that sold chiefly to retailers and commercial users. Id. The court found that the hotel “…simply provide[s] amenities, including clothes irons, to their guests incident to the primary use of the hotel room.” Id.
The Hammond court’s analysis is sound. Hotels simply do not place incidental products such as clothes irons or toothpaste into the stream of commerce. It’s logical to conclude that they are not sellers or suppliers. As such, I really need to stop thinking of hotels as a supplier of my necessities or better yet, I need to start double-checking my luggage when I travel!