My son got sick in our hotel room. Now the manager wants me to pay for the damage

During her Sheraton hotel stay, Anna Eardley’s son becomes “sick” all over the room. She spends the rest of the night trying to clean up the mess, leaves a hefty tip for the maid and then dashes home. When she receives an angry call from the hotel manager telling her that she’s responsible for replacing the entire room’s carpet, she worriedly contacts us for help.

Question:

I stayed at the Sheraton Harborside Hotel In Portsmouth, N.H. In the middle of the night, my eight-year-old woke up with projectile vomiting. He did not make it to the bathroom.

Despite both of us cleaning until the wee hours and what I thought was a generous tip, I received a phone call from the general manager of the hotel this morning. He said they have not been able to rent out the room since then and they want me to pay for the damage. He said they are holding me liable for at least the cost of a new carpet.

Although I am angry at the situation, I know I am responsible and scared. I am not sure how to handle this. I am a single mom and tried to call around to find an attorney; no one would take the case (not that I can afford it!). One said to call the manager back and offer to pay for professional cleaning, and if that does not work, to say that I will have my attorney call them.

I am not sure what to do and need help handling this ASAP. The manager sounded threatening.

I would like to resolve this diplomatically with as little financial liability on my part while still taking responsibility for what happened (already checked; my renters’ insurance would not cover me on this).

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Maybe they could charge me for rug cleaning? I feel that without representation/advocacy, who knows? They could sue me and make me pay for recovery of the losses. I want to pay for the damage but I’m concerned. Please help me, I have no one else. I need experienced help. Anna Eardley, Mamaroneck, N.Y.

Answer:

When I read your email, my heart went straight out to you. Being a mom myself, I have a similar story in my mommy files. And I knew I must help you.

Several years ago, when my youngest daughter was three years old, I was staying at a hotel in Sicily when the same scenario struck. My child was happily toddling around the room when to my horror, she was suddenly hit by an illness that caused quite a mess. All over the room. Yikes!

In that situation, I went straight to the front desk. In my broken Italian, I told my troubling tale. The management took pity on me and quickly dispatched a team of equally sympathetic housekeeping staff employees who cleaned the room and coddled my sickly daughter. I was very grateful.

Grazie. Mi Dispiace!

Pay for the damage?

Cultural differences aside, I was amazed by the lack of understanding and concern that you said this hotel manager had for your situation and the stress that you were experiencing over your child’s illness.

I asked you to send me the manager’s complaint and demands. You told me that he had not put anything in writing yet, but had called you “in an irritable manner.” He mentioned many charges that would soon be coming your way. You were understandably upset and nervous as to what the hotel was about to send you.

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In fact, you put the potential value of your case at $10,000 after the call from the manager. You were afraid that he might want to renovate the entire room at your expense.

Things took a different turn when you told the manager that you would be “represented” by Christopher Elliott and his advocacy team. He asked for proof.

I contacted the manager and let him know that we would like to see a written explanation and an official estimate of the damage that your young child caused with this sickness.

I am still waiting for his response.

You did find a miscellaneous charge on your credit card from the Sheraton for $50. This appears to be the cleaning fee, and you are perfectly happy to pay it.

A failure to communicate

You are pleased to put this “incident” behind you. However, it’s important to figure out where things went wrong here.

If I compare our two situations, there is a significant difference. I went straight to the front desk and asked for help. I explained the problem and gave the hotel an opportunity to assist me — which they did.

In your situation, your embarrassment caused you to suffer in silence.

To your credit, you tried to clean up the room yourself. But without the proper cleaning tools, you couldn’t. After you left, the maids found quite a mess with no explanation. They didn’t know anything about you or your son. They had no idea what caused this biological hazard.

The manager might have approached the situation in an entirely different way if a frazzled mom had appeared at the front desk pleading for assistance for her sickly child. Because you didn’t give the hotel the opportunity to help, this led to confusion and even anger by the staff. This failure to communicate is what ultimately led to the (perceived) lack of empathy and the unhelpful way that the Sheraton staff handled your problem.

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I am pleased that your child is fine and that I was able to have helped — one (sometimes frazzled) mom to another.


Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is the executive director of Elliott.org. She is a consumer advocate, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Friedman Read more of Michelle's articles here.

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