It’s a parent’s worst nightmare.
In 2021, James Carter and Anastasia Duboshina were on a family vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, when their 23-month-old son wandered over to a balcony near the hotel’s ninth floor elevators and fell to his death.
That’s according to a complaint filed last week in San Diego Federal Court on behalf of Nico Carter, the deceased toddler.
“Nico fell from an open unprotected floor-level window that was missing its pane and hit the concrete deck nine stories below,” said Robert Francavilla, a partner at CaseyGerry, the law firm that filed the wrongful death suit, in a statement. “Tragically, he did not live to see his second birthday.”
Now, the parents are suing Hyatt Hotels Corp. In a joint statement, they said, “We hope that through this lawsuit nothing like this ever happens again at any resort or hotel, and that the hospitality industry feels the gravity of what senseless mistakes and carelessness can cause.”
The suit alleges Hyatt entities were negligent by failing to “use reasonable care to keep the Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta in a safe condition.”
Hyatt and the Hyatt Ziva’s operator, Playa Hotels and Resorts, did not respond to Hotel Dive’s request for comment by press time.
The complaint also points to Hyatt’s own branding as a family-friendly hotel with high standards.
“Hyatt is a world-wide luxury hotel brand that trades heavily on name recognition and image,” the complaint reads, noting that the Carters were World of Hyatt members and frequently stayed at Hyatt hotels in the U.S.
“The World of Hyatt webpage assures travelers like the Carters that they can experience Hyatt’s brand standards anywhere there is the Hyatt name,” the complaint continues, pointing out reassurances about safety on the company’s website.
David Casey, partner at CaseyGerry, told Hotel Dive: “You select a Hyatt Hotel in Mexico because it'll have the highest safety standards and be safe for your children, and that's exactly what the Carters did.”
“Hyatt uses its high-level name to attract people,” he added, and in exchange, guests should be able to rely on the “representations of safety and family atmosphere being true.”
Notably, the suit was filed in the U.S., not Mexico, because the plaintiffs believe Hyatt hotels anywhere should carry the same safety standards — and Hyatt itself should be held responsible, according to Casey.
“From our perspective, if Hyatt is saying ‘we've designated hotels with the highest name, anywhere in the world,’ I would expect that Hyatt corporation should be monitoring the facilities carefully and making sure they're the very highest standards,” Casey said.
Hotel safety concerns
When it comes to hotel safety cases, Casey said his firm, which has been around for more than 75 years, has seen it all.
“You'll have glass that may shatter, hurting people. You may have floors that are not safe,” he said. “You have different things that go wrong. But I’ll tell you, in my career, I've never seen a hotel where they just didn't have a window pane where they should have had one.”
The World Health Organization considers falling a “major public health problem.” WHO estimates 684,000 fatal falls take place each year globally. Over 80% of those deaths happen in low- and middle-income countries (Mexico, meanwhile, is classified as upper-middle income).
Though falls are rarer in the U.S., hotels are a common site for them to take place given the prevalence of balconies. In 2013, a 38-year-old fell to his death off a hotel balcony in Michigan. That same year, a 6-year-old fell from a third-story balcony at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (she survived with minor injuries). In 2011, a 34-year-old fell to her death from the 14th story of a resort in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s State of the Industry report for 2023, “overall cleanliness and safety protocols” is the third factor guests consider when selecting a hotel, following price and location.
And while legal requirements vary from region to region, hotels and their management companies still play a big role in setting safety standards.
“Hotels managed by Hyatt Hotels & Resorts consider guest comfort and security as our priority, particularly when faced with today's global security challenges,” reads a page on Hyatt’s website. “As our valued guest, we are committed to creating an environment of security and well being throughout your stay.”