Marriott International Inc. can be sued in the U.S. over claims it failed to provide proper security at an Islamabad hotel where a terrorist attack in 2008 killed 56 people, an appeals court ruled.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, overturned a lower-court ruling that Pakistan provided an adequate forum to resolve a lawsuit brought by the family of Albert DiFederico, a State Department contractor killed when an explosives-filled truck blew up at the barrier gate to the Marriott Islamabad Hotel.
“Because the DiFedericos’ central theory revolves around Marriott’s coordination of security from its principal place of business, there is inherent convenience to bringing this case in its legal backyard,” U.S. Circuit Judge Roger Gregory wrote for the three-member panel.
Further, Gregory said, “it would be a perversion of justice” if DiFederico’s widow, Mary DiFederico, and their three sons, who filed the suit, were required to attend a trial in Pakistan, placing “themselves in the same risk-laden situation that led to the death of a family member.”
Marriott’s press office didn’t immediately reply to phone and e-mail seeking comment on the ruling.
Marriott, the largest publicly traded U.S. hotel chain, is based in Bethesda, Maryland.
The Islamabad hotel was owned and operated by a Pakistani company under a franchise agreement with Marriott, according to Gregory’s ruling.
The DiFedericos chose not to sue the Pakistani firm, alleging that Marriott “controlled all aspects of anti-terrorism security at the hotel,” Gregory said.
Marriott argued that the case should be tried in Pakistan because “the attack occurred on foreign soil, by international terrorists at a hotel owned and operated by a Pakistani corporation,” according to the lower court ruling reversed by the appeals panel.
The blast that killed DiFederico occurred about seven minutes after an initial detonation caused only a small fire inside the cab of the explosives laden truck. Instead of warning hotel guests of possible danger, security personnel called the fire department and looked for a fire extinguisher, according to the DiFedericos’ original complaint, filed in June 2011.
The DiFedericos’ suit alleged that Marriott was negligient in failing to notify or evacuate guests after the first explosion and failed to provide adequate fire safety equipment and training.
The case is DiFederico v. Marriott International, 12-1635, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (Richmond).