‘I Didn’t Start the Fire,’ Guest Tells Hotel

     AUSTIN (CN) – A woman claims in court that she had to spend the night in a “fire-ravaged” hotel room among her charred personal belongings, while hotel employees spread false rumors that she had “tried to burn the hotel down.”
     LaTanya Stevenson sued Hotel USA Partners LLC dba Crowne Plaza Austin, in Travis County Court.
     Stevenson, a state worker, claims she attended a three-day regional administrative service conference at the Crowne Plaza in November 2011.
     She says the hotel gave her a room where the air-conditioner was stuck on the coldest setting. Unable to budge the “black and nonresponsive” temperature controls, Stevenson says, she reported the problem to the front desk.
     Stevenson said she worked in her room for a while on online college courses, then went to the front desk to discuss the problem. When no one from maintenance showed up to fix the air conditioner, Stevenson says, she left and joined her co-workers for a bite to eat.
     While she was out, she says, her manager called to check on her.
     “It was then that Ms. Stevenson discovered a fire had erupted in her room, so she hurried back to the hotel to survey the situation,” according to the complaint.
     Stevenson says hotel employees blamed her for the fire.
     “One staff member in particular told Ms. Stevenson the fire was caused by her laptop, which was left on the bed while she was out,” the complaint states.
     Stevenson denies it.
     “When Ms. Stevenson was finally given an opportunity to speak to a member of the fire department, she learned from the fire marshal that the malfunctioning air conditioning unit, not her laptop was the root of the fire,” the complaint states. “She got back to her room to find all of her belongings either severely damaged by the water from the sprinkler system or charred by the flames, which emanated from the bad climate control unit.
     “In light of the fact that the fire occurred on the first day of the conference and given Ms. Stevenson’s complete loss of everything she brought with her, hotel management instructed her to go to a nearby Wal-Mart and Target to replace some of the damaged items.”
     It didn’t really work out, she says.
     “Ms. Stevenson was unable to find any clothes that fit her, but she made due with what was available. For the remainder of the conference, Ms. Stevenson had to attend meetings in clothes that were visibly too big and poor substitutes for the designer clothing she had packed for the conference. Ms. Stevenson was reimbursed only for the items she purchased at Wal-Mart, but because she was required to submit all receipts to hotel management, she was unable to return any items purchased at Target and was stuck with inadequate ‘replacements’ for the designer clothing she lost in the fire,” the complaint states.
     “… (W)hile other guests whose rooms suffered water damage were moved to dry rooms or even to a nearby Holiday Inn, Ms. Stevenson was forced to remain in the fire-ravaged room. Ms. Stevenson was not assigned a new room until over 24 hours after the fire.
     “Throughout the remainder of the conference Ms. Stevenson was approached by several hotel guests, some of whom were coworkers and attendees of the same conference she was attending, and asked if she had caused the fire that occurred on November 8th. Ms. Stevenson was extremely embarrassed by those inquiries and so many people were under the impression she was at fault, that conference officials felt compelled to announce she was not responsible for the fire during one of the general sessions. Despite the announcement and the fire marshal’s declaration that Ms. Stevenson did not cause the fire, hotel staff continued to poke fun at Ms. Stevenson and perpetuate the false rumor that she was to blame for the incident. To her dismay, at least three hotel employees openly told Ms. Stevenson she ‘tried to burn the hotel down’ within earshot of other hotel guests.”
     In addition to the unpleasant experience, Stevenson says, she lost her laptop, college course materials and “over 30 billable hours worth of work for freelance architecture jobs she was in the process of completing at the time the fire occurred.”
     She seeks damages for negligence and defamation.
     She is represented by Marvelus Sattiewhite III with Lopez Sattiewhite of Houston.

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