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, a Pennsylvania judge has ruled in an unusual premises liability lawsuit against the motel operator.

Motel 6 of Washington, Pa.

The ruling allows Gabriel Bonilla to proceed to trial with his suit alleging that inadequate security at a Motel 6 in Washington, Pa., resulted in him being slashed with a knife from ear to throat. His attackers were two men — Trey Willis and Richard Pruden — who had been offering women for sex in a room at the motel.

Bonilla might seem to be profiting from the crime of having sex with a prostitute, U.S. District Judge David Stewart Cercone said, but he would only be barred from recovering damages from the motel if a jury found that “such activity was a substantial factor in producing his injury.”

Motel 6 Operating argued it could not liable for Bonilla's injuries because paying for sex is an illegal and “obviously dangerous activity.”

But Cercone found no “evidence to support the proposition that plaintiff knowingly assumed the risk of getting slashed or violently assaulted by paying for sex” and cited Bonilla's testimony that prostitution is legal and “normal” in his native Honduras.

“Accepting plaintiff's statements as true, the evidence indicates that plaintiff was not subjectively aware of any risks in his decision to pay Pruden $30.00 to have sex,” Cercone said in denying Motel 6's motion for summary judgment.

Richard Pruden

According to testimony, Willis and Pruden rented Room 227 at the motel on June 13, 2008 to “party” with several young women. Around 9 p.m., the group decided to make an impromptu pornographic movie and, after a crowd of men gathered to watch through the curtains, the women agreed to offer their sexual services for money.

Bonilla, a carpenter, was staying in the neighboring Room 225 while working on a construction project. He testified that Pruden approached him and asked him if he was interested in having sex with one of the women for $30.

After his session with the prostitute, Bonilla said, he went to sleep. Around 1:30 a.m., he said, he stepped outside his room to smoke a cigarette. A fight began, with Pruden calling him a “faggot,” punching him in the face and breaking his nose. Willis joined in, slashing him with a 3-1/2-inch knife blade.

Bonilla filed his suit in June 2009, alleging Motel 6 failed to take reasonable steps to protect its guests from the criminal acts of third parties. Among other things, the motel, which had a long history of criminal activity on its premises, did not employ security guards and its only surveillance camera monitored only the lobby.

Willis said the fight with Pruden broke out after Bonilla tried to have anal sex with the prostitute, persisting even after he was warned not to. And as a matter of law, Motel 6 said, “This Court should recognize that procuring sex through pimps is an illegal and obviously dangerous activity and that innkeepers cannot be held liable when a guest patronizes a prostitute and is injured as a result.”
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