A Bird’s-Eye View on High-Rise Window Security

A century ago, buildings that were more than a few stories high were an engineering marvel; today, multi-storied and high-rise hotels are plentiful and routinely soar to increasing heights, all the better to market the expansive views as a major marketing point. Unfortunately, unique exposures exist that can trigger general liability and umbrella liability claims—consider tragic events such as one guest who leapt to his death from a high-rise window in the penthouse, or an inebriated party guest who stepped up on a railing to get a better view of the sunset and lost her balance, toppling over the edge.

Sometimes the occurrence is one that defies the odds, as with the claim where the guests overrode the active security locks/measures on the window of a third-story bedroom and their toddler bounced from the bed right out the window (yet miraculously survived). In some situations, guests attempted suicide and their families later filed insurance claims, arguing that the windows on the higher floors shouldn’t have been able to open wide enough to allow a person to go through them.

Whether an injury or death is accidental or not, what’s clear is that, along with the commanding vistas from these high windows and balconies, come additional safety measures specific to mitigating exposures inherent in high-rise and multi-storied hotels. Here’s what can be done:

  • Limit the number of functioning windows. On those that do open, use heavy-duty locks at the top of the windows where they’re not likely to be unlocked accidentally or are accessible by children.
  • On functioning sliding and swinging windows, limit the extent to which they open by installing a limiter in the rail of the window guide; modify the windows if necessary to enable this feature.
  • Make railing heights higher than local building codes require (typically 1.1 meters), making them harder to climb over. Also, from an aesthetic standpoint, a higher railing won’t obstruct the horizon view when seated so this is actually a win-win.
  • Purposely select thin railings that are uncomfortable if not impossible to sit on. This will discourage daredevils and distracted folks alike from sitting on (and falling off) a railing.
  • Do not include a horizontal rail or any other decorative feature at the bottom of the railing that would allow people to step up on or use to climb over.

People become injured or fall to their death, both accidentally and on purpose, from windows and balconies in multi-storied or high-rise hotels every year. Reduce their opportunity to do so by restricting access and—most importantly—lives can be saved. At the same time, management can reduce or eliminate the risk of liability claims and along with it, a public relations nightmare that could put them out of business.