Hotel Guest Hangs Clothes on Sprinkler in His Room, Causes $690,000 Damage

A high school senior staying on the fourth floor of the Holiday Inn Dumfries the night before a JROTC drill competition “wanted to make sure his uniform looked perfect.”

So :he decided to hang his jacket on a sprinkler head in his hotel room and properly affix all of his ribbons and medals” and was totally surprised that when he took his jacket down “the sprinkler activated — resulting in more than $690,000 in damage.”


Credit: Holiday Inn Dumfries

The hotel has insurance of course, but they’re looking to recoup their losses so they’re suing the student’s family and his Virginia school system because it was a school trip. The school argues ‘sovereign immunity’ – that state law preempts their being held accountable.

Meanwhile the family turned the claim over to their homeowner’s insurance. A homeowner’s policy often covers more than you think (even if you libel someone on a blog, as long as the blog doesn’t make any money). However the company that issued the homeowners policy, while currently covering the legal defense cost, is seeking a ruling to get them off the hook.

The student, for his part, “said there were no signs to notify guests not to hang clothing from the sprinkler head and that [he] didn’t know it was dangerous.”

The fire department responded in 6 minutes. It took 45 minutes to shut off the water. The flooding that ensued damaged 10 guest rooms and the hotel’s dining and kitchen areas. And the fire department now uses this as a cautionary tale.

This is also why it’s important that hotel rooms provide a closet or wardrobe with hangers otherwise it seems to me to be assumption of just this sort of risk – which should be entirely foreseeable on their part.

(HT: Dan)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I am not an attorney.
    I have never been in a Hotel without the warning sign to avoid this. I guess a teen that did not travel much could make this mistake.
    I am just wondering why it took 45 minutes to turn off the water. I am guessing the hotel needs better trained staff. I hope the Hotel and their insurance settle nd leave the kid out of this.

  2. Reminds me of a now-former science fiction convention I attended in the Washington, DC area in 1997 called Disclave. Only this time it wasn’t an object that was affixed to the sprinkler head. Apparently, at 5-something AM, someone on the 4th floor thought it would be a Very Good Idea to tie their sweetie up to the nearest attachment point for various and sundry romantic/nefarious purposes. It wasn’t. It was reported that the phone call from someone on the 3rd floor, immediately below, to the front desk began with the words “Why is it raining in my room?”

    The rumour at the time was the gentleman involved was a police sargeant from the NYC area. The event soon became known as “50,000 leagues under the scene,” or “Disclave ’97: I slept in the wet spot.

    I was staying on the 10th floor, and after about an hour they ordered the hotel’s guests to evacuate using the stairs. We weren’t initially aware of what had happened, until we saw water pouring out of every available orifice in the building. Including electrical outlets and around ceiling lights in the vicinity of the lobby. The lobby itself was a disaster zone afterwards. Naturally the jokes wrote themselves afterwards, but that, sadly, spelled the end of that convention after a 47 year history.

  3. I am not saying that this young man was in the right here. He should not have hung up his coat there. That said, good design would have prevented this. It often seems to me that many hotel rooms have been designed by people who have never stayed in a hotel.

    – The lack of a hook to hang up something like this guy’s coat (and I don’t think a dark unlighted closet is an adequate substitute);
    – A place to hang a dop kit or even place it on a counter in a bathroom;
    – lack of plugs by the bed for a phone or other device (though there is a plug for the clock that has a dock for a 30-pin iPhone);
    – glass topped desk (where an optical mouse won’t work)
    – lack of plugs by the desk;
    – a desk that is too high or a chair that is too low to work with a laptop;
    – no good place to open up a rollaboard and live out of it for the night or two that you are in the room (what percentage of people are going to unpack);
    – shower heads that are too low in a crappy dirty looking tub that no one in their right mind would ever use;
    – no place to put shampoo, soap, etc., while in the tub;
    – no way to turn on the shower without getting soaking wet.

    There are many more. Newer designs are getting better but I rarely see a room where everything seems well thought out.

    And wow, I think that the hotel is going to have a real problem with getting damages because of how long it took them to shut the water off.

  4. Sounds like an honest mistake. IHG PR will take a hit if the hotel continues the aggressive lawsuit path. (Suing the school for breach of contract, are you kidding me?)

  5. Where exactly is he ” properly affixing all of his ribbons and medals” when not staying in a hotel room? Claiming that there were no ” signs to notify guests not to hang clothing from the sprinkler head and didn’t know it was dangerous ” is a great example of a person not accepting responsibility for his actions. Probably a good thing hotel did not have chandeliers in lobby as they probably don’t have signs there that it might be dangerous to swing from them.
    This might be an acceptable argument for a 9 year old, certainly not for a JROTC candidate.

  6. The hotel can try to sue, but it is not reasonable to presume that hanging something up on the wrong hook will cause nearly a million dollars in damages. Maybe $1,000 or $2,000 of damage could be predicted, after that, the hotel has to have a way to mitigate disasters. In this case, clearly the hotel was not prepared to deal with a faulty sprinkler head. Considering there are hundreds, and they do predictably fail, the hotel is liable for the damages.
    And this presumes that this head was not faulty. If it was, then the hotel is fully responsible.
    Homeowners insurance will kick in to defend the policyholder against the claim, and the hotel will lose.

  7. One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the number of a**holes who stay in hotels constantly, and then expect casual vacationers to know the ins-and-outs of hotels just as well as the experts. This teenager was probably staying in a hotel by himself for the first time in his life.

    This is akin to someone watching a movie for the 10th time and complaining that people who have never seen the movie before cannot guess the twist at the end.

    Didn’t the hotel have a sign warning him not to do that? Maybe, but I am writing this while in a brand new Holiday Inn Express, and my room has no sign warning guests not to hang their hangers.

    Should the guest be responsible because the hotel management is too incompetent to shut off their own water? In March I was staying in a Holiday Inn when a cheap plastic valve on my toilet was broken by an employee. For hours the employee had to sit there with a bucket. The plumber was unable to find the water cutoff, and finally convinced management to shut off the water to the entire building, which then necessitated having an employee stand in the lobby bathroom and flush repeatedly until all the water in the 4 story building had been drained out.

    I think they gave me 5000 points for the inconvenience.

  8. I think that you’ll find that the hotel was not allowed to isolate the sprinkler system until authorised to do so by the Fire Chief!

  9. For those of us that live in the DC area, once the city was mentioned, we knew all that we needed to know………

  10. I was a lawyer for hotels and we once sued someone for doing exactly this. This best part was that he was a lawyer too. He argued that it wasn’t his fault, there should have been a warning sign, etc but ultimately his homeowner’s insurance paid up.

  11. I can’t fathom suing someone for this. I’ll bet the vast majority of people believe the sprinklers are controlled by the fire alarm… unless you know they’re held shut by a tiny glass piece you’d never think they are fragile.

    If anyone is negligent they are for not spending $2 on a cheap plastic sign…

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