Login Register Subscribe
Current Issue

Marriott not liable for death in Pakistan terror attack

Reprints

Marriott International Inc. cannot be held responsible for a hotel guest’s death in a 2008 terrorist attack in Pakistan because it did not exercise control over its franchisee’s security operations, says a federal appeals court.

The Marriott Islamabad is a franchisee of Bethesda, Maryland-based Marriott International Inc. that is owned and operated by Islamabad-based Hashwani Inc., according to Thursday’s ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, in Mary DiFederico et al. v. Marriott International Inc.

On Sept. 20, 2008, a truck carrying 1,320 pounds of explosives turned into the hotel’s driveway and crashed into its fortified gate barrier, which stopped the truck from moving any closer to the hotel. The truck driver tried to denotate the explosives, but the detonator partially malfunctioned, starting a fire in the truck’s front rather than detonating the explosives in the back.

Security guards, seemingly unaware the truck carried explosives, responded to the truck like an automobile fire. The hotel did not notify guests of the fire, and several minutes later the truck exploded. 

The explosion set fire to the hotel’s fourth floor and damaged the main water line used in the hotel’s sprinkler system. Mr. DiFederico, a guest on the Islamabad’s fourth floor, died due to either the initial explosion or subsequent fire. A total of 56 individuals died in the attack, and 265 were injured, according to the ruling.

Mr. DiFederico’s family filed a wrongful death suit against Marriott. Initially, the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Maryland, held that the case should be tried in Pakistan, but the 4th Circuit rule reversed that ruling in 2013.

On remand, the District Court granted Marriott summary judgment dismissing the case on the basis it did not exercise sufficient control over Islamabad’s security operations to warrant liability.

A three-judge appeals court panel unanimously agreed. As a franchisee, Islamabad was obligated to meet Marriott’s crisis management standards, which required procedures such as inspecting its public restrooms at least hourly and refusing to store luggage, said the ruling, and the hotel was found to be fully compliant with these standards a month before the attack.

“But that was the extent to which Marriott controlled the hotel’s security procedures,” said the ruling. Marriott security officials did not know if the hotel had an evacuation plan and knew of no individualized security advice or training that was provided, and its regional vice president never visited the hotel before the attack.

“In fact, Marriott explicitly required that Hashwani independently develop its own security plan, and had no review or approval procedure for the plan,” said the ruling.

Hashwani, not Marriott, “had control over how Hashwani’s employees would respond to the fire or bombing that killed Mr. DiFederico,” said the ruling. 

“As a matter of law, Marriott did not control the instrumentalities that led to Mr. DiFederico’s death,” said the decision, in affirming the lower court’s dismissal of the case.