The family of a man who died of an overdose at The Darling Hotel in Visalia have claimed in a recent lawsuit that hotel workers could have saved his life, but failed to, after allegedly finding him unconscious and failing to contact medical services after a welfare check.
The legal machinations of the suit have also drawn in the Downtown Visalians organization and On-Site Security, a security firm that Downtown Visalians contracts out security services in the downtown area to.
The man, Woodlake resident Jeremy Baker, died at the hotel on July 27, 2021 at the age of 36. His family retained the Law Offices of Melo and Sarsfield and filed a wrongful death case on July 26, 2023, on behalf of Baker’s four minor children and his mother, Florinda Taylor.
Baker’s children and mother are suing for loss of future earnings, funeral and hospital expenses, and the pain and suffering of losing a father and son.
The suit claims that the hotel failed to call for an ambulance for Baker “despite his obvious medical distress, and as a foreseeable result, he died for lack of medical intervention.”
According to the suit, “The Darling Hotel has a duty of care to its guests, to include providing reasonable assistance to them in medical emergencies.”
Both sides agree that Baker was a guest at the hotel on July 26, but stories differ on the welfare check and the events afterward.
The family’s lawsuit states that workers with The Darling Hotel, accompanied by an On-Site Security officer, conducted a welfare check on July 27 at approximately 2pm after he had stayed in his room past 12pm.
“Management contacted a downtown security officer (an employee of a local security business that provided security services to various downtown businesses such as The Darling Hotel) to check on the welfare and status of Mr. Baker, as well as to ascertain why he had not checked out of the hotel,” the family’s suit reads.
When the security officer arrived, two Darling Hotel employees accompanied the security officer to Baker’s room according to the suit. After knocking on the door with no answer, they all entered Baker’s room to find him unresponsive on his bed in the hotel room.
According to the suit, the three tried to awaken him without success by talking to Baker and physically shaking him before they “decided there was nothing to be done, closed his door, and left him in his room, unattended.”
The family’s suit claims that leaving him unattended, without medical assistance and in a locked room, would lead to his death later in the day; the suit additionally claims timely medical intervention could have prevented the overdose death if an ambulance had been called when Baker was found unresponsive at 2pm.
“Medical intervention would have saved his life,” said the suit.
The Darling Hotel’s response
The Morrison Law Group, attorneys for The Darling Hotel, filed an answer to the family’s lawsuit on August 22, and additionally filed a cross-complaint against Downtown Visalians and On-Site Security.
According to Bob Ainley, part owner of the hotel, the hotel’s insurance company has taken the lead on litigating the case. Out of respect for the family, Ainley declined to comment on the case.
In the hotel’s answer to the lawsuit, the company states that Baker knew the risks of taking drugs, and that Baker was negligent in doing so.
The cross-complaint against Downtown Visalians and On-Site Security provides the hotel’s side of the story.
The Darling’s cross complaint against the security company states, “Checkout was to be on Tuesday, July 27, 2021 at 11:00 a.m. When BAKER did not check out, a house staff employee went into Room 208, saw BAKER sleeping, and left.”
The cross-complaint claims that two employees and a security officer entered Baker’s room “between 12:15 p.m. and 12:45 p.m.” and “gently shook” Baker awake – and that the officer searched the room for drugs but found none. After Baker awoke, the hotel claims that he was booked for another night.
Later that evening, at approximately 5pm, one of the employees that had previously entered his room asked the front desk if they had seen Baker. According to the cross-complaint, the security company was “not willing to come to the hotel again,” leading employees to knock on the door without answer.
The officer that arrived “was not willing to go inside,” and employees later knocked on the door of the room at 9:15pm with no response.
Employees would later come back to the room 30 minutes later, at 9:45pm, to discover Baker was dead – a fact both sides agree on.
“In the space of a number of hours, the HOTEL staff checked on BAKER at least four times, called DOWNTOWN SECURITY and the police and had them go to Room 208. The HOTEL met any applicable standard of care and BAKER assumed the risks of drug taking and waived any claim against the HOTEL,” the cross-complaint reads.
John Sarsfield, of the Law Offices of Melo and Sarsfield, said that the security company has 30 days to respond, though the company could petition the court for an extension.
Sarsfield said that the case was still in the preliminary stages and that he had no comment.