Wassell was staying in a cheap hotel in a bad
neighborhood. There was a knock on the door in the middle of the night.
Wassell opened the door and was attacked.
There was no telephone in the room, there was no security
guard, and no one responded to her cries for help.
In the seven years prior to the attack there had been three other attacks on
people staying at the hotel.
Wassell sued the owner of the hotel, Adams, for negligence.
Wassell argued that Adams had a duty to warn and take
actions to protect hotel guests from attacks.
Wassell also argued that she was from a small town and
wasn't 'hardened' into thinking that every knock that the door could be an
The Trial Court found that Adams had been negligent,
and that negligence was a proximate cause of the attack, but that
Wassell was mostly to blame. Wassell appealed.
The jury found that Adams was 3% at fault, and Wassell
was 97% at fault.
The jury felt that Wassell shouldn't have opened her
door to strangers in the middle of the night.
The jury assessed that the damages were $850k, but 3% of
$850k was only $25k.
This is the doctrine of comparative fault.
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The Appellate Court looked not only at who was at fault,
but also the relative cost to avoid.
Wassell could have prevented the attack by simply not
opening the door. Adams could only have prevented the attack by
spending lots of money on security guards and alarms.
It would have cost Adams approximately $20k a year to
hire a night security guard.
The Court found that a verbal warning would not
have avoided the attack since Wassell testified that she thought the
knock at the door was her fiancée. Also, it should be obvious to people
to not open the door to strangers in the middle of the night.
"It's not Adams responsibility to tell guests not
to stick their fingers in the electrical outlets either."
The Court felt that the 3% number was low, but
that they didn't have the authority to reverse a jury decision unless it
was against the clear weight of the evidence, and it wasn't.