The mother of a prostitute slain by the “Craigslist killer” at a Marriott hotel in Boston has alleged in a first-of-its-kind lawsuit that the hotel's operator is liable for her daughter's death because it failed to prevent prostitution from occurring on its premises.
Philip Markoff and Julissa Brisman
Julissa Brisman, 25, was shot to death April 14, 2009 at the Marriott Copley Place. Her killer, medical student Philip Markoff, had arranged to meet her there after responding to her “erotic services” ad on Craigslist.
Brisman's mother, Carmen Guzman, sued Marriott International for wrongful death earlier this week. “Marriott's inadequate and negligent security was the proximate cause of Ms. Brisman's death,” she alleges.
The complaint says the attack on Brisman was foreseeable because Markoff had robbed another prostitute at gunpoint at a neighboring hotel four days earlier and “sex workers are commonly violently victimized by their clients.”
Moreover, says Guzman, noting that Marriott properties in Washington, D.C., were reportedly the “hotels of choice” for “D.C. Madam” Deborah Jeane Palfrey,
Marriott had an apparently rich history of criminal sexual activity occurring in its hotels both locally and regionally, in the days, weeks and months leading up to Ms. Brisman's death.
Hotels generally have a duty of care to protect guests from the foreseeable criminal acts of third parties. A critical hurdle for Guzman will be showing that the duty extends to a guest who is engaged in criminal activity.
Friends of Brisman have said she was an aspiring actress who only offered masseuse services. But her mother's suit specifically states that she rented Room 2034 at the swanky Marriott Copley Place on April 13, 2009 “with the express purpose of providing illegal sexual services for compensation.”
According to the suit, Brisman's appointment with Markoff was the last of four she had booked with male clients on April 14. After entering her room, he tried to bind her hands with a plastic cord and rob her. As she struggled with him, he “smashed [her] in the head with his pistol and then shot her three times in the torso.”
Markoff was arrested April 20, 2009 and charged with Brisman's murder but he killed himself in his jail cell in August 2010 while awaiting trial. He was also charged with the robbery of Trisha Leffler at the Boston Westin Copley hotel on April 10, 2009.
Guzman, who is seeking unspecified damages, alleges Marriott knew or should have known what her daughter was up to because Room 2034 “had steady flows of male clients coming and going in the hours leading up to her death.”
The hotel was also on notice of the Leffler robbery, the suit says, and that the FBI and local police had conducted prostitution sting operations, arresting several women, at two other Boston-area Marriotts in February 2009.
“Marriott had a duty to take reasonable measures to prevent criminal activity, including prostitution, from occurring within its hotels in the hours, days, weeks, and months leading up to Ms. Brisman's tragic death,” Guzman argues.
A Pennsylvania judge ruled last year that a guest who paid for sex with a prostitute at a Motel 6 did not assume the risk of being attacked several hours later by the prostitute's pimp. The evidence indicated that the guest was not “subjectively aware” of any risks in deciding to pay for sex, the judge said in refusing to dismiss the guest's suit against Motel 6.
But as a “sex worker,” Brisman should have been subjectively aware of the risks of getting paid for sex. And if her mother's claim was to succeed, what would stop a drug dealer who was ripped off by a client in a hotel room from suing the hotel for inadequate security?
By Matthew Heller