GUAM JURY AWARDS $1 MILLION IN HOTEL INJURY LAWSUIT

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By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Dec. 21) – A Saipan family has just become a millionaire - at least on paper.

Millagros Merjilla and Saturnino Songcuan, both accountants by profession, and their teen children Lizelle Song-cuan and Glenn Song- cuan, won a Superior Court of Guam case in which a jury on Monday awarded them a little more than $1 million in a negligence lawsuit against the owner of the hotel where they had stayed during Supertyphoon Pongsona in 2002 and the hotel's insurance company.

The suit stems in part from the Merjilla's injuries when a pair of glass sliding doors at the New Century Hotel in Tamuning "blasted apart, causing the hotel room door to slam against Millagros," the plaintiffs' complaint alleged.

The family had traveled from Saipan to Guam for a vacation.

The attorney representing the plaintiffs, Mark Smith, born and raised on Guam, said Monday's award in favor of Merjilla and the Songcuans "is one of the largest personal injury verdicts on Guam."

"It was definitely worth fighting for," Smith said. "My clients felt strongly about the case."

But while a victory to the family, the case could have a chilling effect on the Guam hotel industry and the companies that provide typhoon insurance coverage because of Guam's location in typhoon alley.

In the aftermath of Pongsona, some larger hotels in Tumon Bay were left with shattered glass windows and soaked guests.

The lawsuit for negligence is against New Century Hotel and Chung Kuo Insurance Co. Ltd.

"Plaintiffs questioned (hotel management about) the strength and integrity of the glass sliding doors, however, they were assured by the hotel manager on duty that they should remain in their room because they were safe from harm and danger," the lawsuit alleged.

The company that owned it when Pongsona hit in 2002 no longer owns new Century.

Sentry Hospitality Inc., parent company of Guam's Days Inn, has purchased the former New Century Hotel property on Ypao Road, according to Days Inn management in August.

Chung Kuo management could not be reached when contacted after regular office hours yesterday.

Smith said the family has been traumatized by their Pongsona experience.

The children in the family were 15 and 13 at the time, he said.

The children's parents are both hardworking people who work in Saipan, and are from the Philippines, Smith said.

Merjilla had two long lacerations across her forehead and waited about two hours before she could be driven to the hospital when Pongsona winds had subsided, according to the suit.

"In order to prevent Millagros from going into shock, (hotel guest Javier) Atalig along with Saturnino covered Millagros and kept applying pressure to her head to prevent further blood loss ... under the advice of the Guam Fire Department via telephone," the lawsuit alleged.

December 21, 2005

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

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