In August 2017 Jill Renick, director of spa services at Mokara Spa at the Omni Houston Hotel, died at the hotel in a flood during Hurricane Harvey. Now, the family of the 48-year-old victim has filed a suit against Omni Hotels, claiming Renick died of drowning due to the hotel’s gross negligence and conscious disregard for its guests. The suit also names Otis Elevator as a defendant, citing the absence of flood sensors on the hotel’s elevators.
"Jill’s death was horrific and easily preventable,” says Rob Crain of Crain Lewis Brogdon, LLP, the family’s lawyer.
“This hotel has a history of flooding as it sits in a low-lying area next to a river.” The lawsuit filed on June 4 with the 44th Civil District Court in Dallas County, TX, details previous flooding at the hotel, the flooding of the Omni Hotel’s basement on August 27, information from video footage showing Renick in the flood waters, and the alleged failures of Omni Hotels.
The suit states that, as predicted for days, Hurricane Harvey was dumping heavy rain on the city of Houston. Renick and her rescued dog Sweet Pea spent the night in the hotel August 26. The suit then says that at around 5:15 am, Renick was called by the front desk and told “to come downstairs." The suit also states, "[t]he Hotel has not provided an explanation as to what happened when Jill arrived downstairs." At approximately 5:40 am, Renick used her cellphone to call the hotel’s front desk and plead for help. Renick said she was trapped in the basement service elevator and that water was coming in the elevator. The hotel has provided no explanation as to why Renick would be in the service elevator as it was not accessible from her third-floor hotel room.
Video surveillance footage obtained from the Omni Houston Hotel shows Renick escaping the elevator by partially prying open the elevator doors and heading into the basement. The footage shows Renick struggling to stay above the rising flood waters before climbing above the ceiling tiles that were affixed to joist framing. This was the last time Renick was seen alive, as the water eventually flooding the basement completely and rose above the first floor. Renick’s body was not found by hotel employees until 11 days later, on September 7.
“Not only was there ample warning of heavy rain accompanying Hurricane Harvey, the Omni knew their basement was flooding that morning; it is unconscionable to leave the elevators operating, to not barricade around the elevators to prevent their use, and to not warn Jill and the other guests of this life-threatening danger,” says Crain. “In a flood, elevators are death traps. We can see in the video footage that Jill fought hard to find an exit. The Omni Hotel failed Jill and its guests.”
This case is ongoing, and details will be updated as they are provided.