Early Retention of Hotel Expert Saves Time & Expense

By R. Britton Colbert, CHA, CHIA

The early retention of a hotel expert most often leads to improved discovery results and a comprehensive understanding of the expert's industry specialty, often unfamiliar to the attorney. Real estate is a broad and well-documented discipline with substantial case history. However, the hotel industry is very specialized, encompassing the basics of real estate coupled with financing, labor and operations. Unlike other disciplines, the hotel industry experiences numerous ownership, franchise, management and other personnel changes, often resulting in great difficulty in producing complete discovery documentation. Often property damage has also impeded discovery efforts. The early and timely designation of a hotel expert can help compress the discovery time.

Experienced hotel experts clearly define needed discovery routinely used daily throughout the industry, often adding significant clarity to the discovery requests. Moreover, a hotel expert's experience supplements interrogatory responses and assist in crafting deposition and trial examination for the retaining attorney.

It is assumed that the attorney and the hotel expert clearly understand the theme of the case for which the hotel expert is to provide an independent industry opinion. Unfortunately, this is not always the situation, which can result in wasted time costs. For example, most hotel assault cases are based on the initial assumption that security is the key issue. However, an experienced hotel expert, regardless of plaintiff or defense retention, would examine negligent retention, employee training, discipline procedures, employee review practices and security standards, all possibly embraced by mismanagement and duty of care as the case theme. The knowledgeable hotel expert provides the attorney with a comprehensive presentation of hotel industry standards and practices, allowing the attorney greater flexibility in managing the case.

Similarly, hotel wrongful death cases almost always entail numerous operating issues, but attorneys often single out only one hotel element. An experienced hotel expert with operational experience can fully understand the essential causal issues and fairly present, for plaintiff or defense cases, a comprehensive analysis of operating responsibilities and accepted practices, allowing the attorney to be more fully educated about the hotel industry, thus better prepared.

Hotel contract disputes also require an in-depth understanding of the hotel industry by the expert. For example, a parking easement-contract dispute requires knowledge of hotel operations, scheduling, leases and development agreements in order to explain and comment upon various hotel parking practices and reporting procedures. This knowledge will assist the attorney in being aware of the many unique practices employed throughout the industry.

By retaining an expert early, particularly an expert in an area as specific as a hotel expert, the attorney can become knowledgeable about the nuances of the industry and can better focus on key issues that might not have been identified or understood to be significant to the dispute. Early expert retention almost always is cost justified for the attorney and usually results in a better managed assignment for the expert.

Published in The Journal of the Allegheny County Bar Association Lawyers Journal, December 10, 2004.

R. Britton Colbert has 35+ years of hotel industry experience, including direct operating responsibility for nine hotels in California, Washington, Illinois and Texas. He has consulted or testified in federal, state, municipal courts and for the Baltimore Police Commission. Frequent matters include franchise issues, wrongful death from fire, drowning, shooting incidents, and assaults, as well as accounting/financial and condemnation matters for the hotel industry. Mr. Colbert currently holds a real estate license from California, and the CHA and CHIA certifications from the Educational Institute of the American Hotel & Lodging Association.