NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A vacation getaway to a swanky South Beach hotel turned into a nightmare for a southern New Jersey woman when she was mistaken for a hooker and beaten up by actual prostitutes who saw her as competition, the woman and her husband claim in a federal lawsuit.
Thirty-four-year-old Anna Burgese asserts in the lawsuit filed last Friday in Camden that a group of women she believes were prostitutes attacked her in the lobby of the W Hotel in Miami Beach in January as she and her husband, Joseph, were returning from a night out. Burgese says she was violently attacked from behind and slammed into a wall, then thrown to the ground. She was taken to the hospital for her injuries, attorney Lance Rogers said.
Worse, the suit claims, hotel staff failed to detain the attackers and even helped them escape by putting them in a taxi. The hotel was aware of previous violent episodes and failed to take precautions to protect hotel guests, according to the suit.
"The Hotel fosters a prostitute-friendly environment where prostitutes are permitted to market themselves on the premises, as evidenced by, among other things, the reviews left on various travel websites by former guests," the lawsuit contends. "It is believed and therefore averred that, in the past, prostitutes have become violent with guests and/or visitors on the Hotel's premises and in the surrounding area."
The suit names Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide and charges negligence, premises liability, assault and loss of consortium and seeks punitive and compensatory damages. The amount of damages sought wasn't specified in the filing, but Rogers said he is seeking a "sizable" award.
"She was violently and brutally attacked," Rogers said. "There was blood on the floor. She was thrown into a granite wall and thrown on the ground."
A Starwood spokesman said the company regrets the incident and that Burgese was injured.
"The safety and security of our guests is our paramount priority, and we are taking this situation very seriously," spokesman Trey Sarten said in an email. "Due to pending litigation, we are unable to comment further at this time."
Sarten added in a subsequent email that the hotel disputes the claim that multiple people attacked Burgese.
Rogers said the couple, who live in Medford, had stayed at the hotel several times previously and had eaten dinner and gone to a club on the hotel premises before they were attacked. Joseph Burgese was on crutches because of a leg injury and tried to fend off the women with his crutches, Rogers said.
According to the police report, Burgese was walking through the lobby when one of the women grabbed her from behind and tackled her to the ground. Police asked Burgese whether she said anything to the alleged attacker, but Burgese insisted it was unprovoked.
Joseph Burgese separated the women and hotel security escorted the suspect outside into a waiting cab, according to the report.
Police later photographed Anna Burgese's bruised knee, right elbow and cut to her bottom lip.
The Burgeses were on vacation abroad Tuesday, Rogers said.
Associated Press writer Kelli Kennedy in Miami contributed to this story.