Crosswhite v. Shelby Operating Corp

In Crosswhite v. Shelby Operating Corp. (1944) 182 Va. 713 30 S.E.2d 673, a three-year-old girl was killed. The child and her mother were guests in a fourth floor hotel room and the mother left the child playing in the bedroom while she went into the bathroom to wet a cloth to use on the child's younger sister. (Crosswhite, supra, 30 S.E.2d at p. 673.) When the mother returned she saw the child standing on the windowsill with her back to the window screen. (Ibid.) The mother rushed to rescue the child, but before she could reach her the child leaned against the screen and fell out of the window. (Ibid.) Reversing a judgment entered in favor of the defendant hotel owner after the trial court sustained the defendant's demurrer to the complaint filed by the child's administrator, the Crosswhite court stated that "the duty of an innkeeper to keep his premises reasonably safe applies to 'defective or insecurely or unsafely fastened window screens.'" (Id. at p. 675.) The Crosswhite court concluded the hotel owner's liability for negligence presented questions for the jury, stating: "In the instant case, we do not know the height of this window sill from the floor, but it was low enough for this three-year old child to climb upon it. The window was open; it was summertime, and this three-year old child could not have opened it. The mother saw the wire screen and had a right to assume that this screen was fastened as wire screens ordinarily are fastened. It can be argued that she would not have left her child in a room with an unscreened open window, whose sill was low enough for this three-year old child to climb upon it; and that she did leave it because she was lulled into safety by seeing what seemed to be a perfectly good screen. While screens are installed to keep bugs out, they do afford some protection to little children; and its presence here lulled the mother into a false sense of security. It can be further argued that the innkeeper knew of its defects or should have known of it. Almost without exception these are jury questions; from which it follows that the judgment appealed from must be reversed, and that the case should be remanded for a new trial upon its merits." (Crosswhite, supra, 30 S.E.2d at p. 675.)