In a tragic turn of events, two women who were horsing around at the W Hotel in Midtown Atlanta fell through the window and down 5 stories to a slanted glass sunroof. One of the women died there and the other rolled off and fell another few stories to the ground where she lay critically injured.
Based on her statements in the AJC, it appears that the women were goofing around when they leaned back on the window and fell out. Their friends insist that no one was drunk although given that it was late at night, those facts will likely be disputed by the hotel.
The question naturally arises, when the window gives way in these circumstances, who is legally responsible?
The short answer is; the hotel has a duty to install glass of a particular strength and flexibility that it could withstand normal ordinary use by a guest, which has to include leaning on it. It is unclear whether the frame gave way or the window glass and the engineering analysis will be critical. They will examine the points of impact on the glass ledge below to determine the trajectory of the women as they exited the window. This will demonstrate how much horizontal momentum they had on exit. If they fell straight down, then they were not moving towards the window with much force and the window should have held them and vice versa.
Modern buildings generally use a few types of glass; Annealed Glass; Tempered Glass; Heat Strengthened Glass; Reflective Glass and Laminated Glass. The investigative stories on 11Alive so far show that it appears that there is a steel frame dividing the window into four sections but that it is floor to ceiling. It appears the ladies fell through the lower section and it also appears that the glass is the original glass from the old Colony Square Hotel, constructed in the 70s.
Key issues in the case will be the Atlanta Building Code and the applicable ANSI standards. The sad thing is that if these windows have not been replaced since the code requirements were put into place, it will be difficult to establish a breach of the standard of care by the hotel. The efforts will have to focus on the time period in which the W refurbished the hotel and whether the new standards would come into play.
Consider for a moment if this had happened to a child who had been playing and had rolled into the glass. In the final analysis, it is unacceptable for the hotel glass to be too weak to take a modest roll from two women. I hope the families involved come to peace over this terrible situation but I think we will see a massive refurbishment project on the W Midtown to replace all of the windows going forward.