Family of woman killed while vacationing in Costa Rica sues Airbnb and resort owners

Published December 21, 2018

TAMPA — The Riverview family of a woman killed while vacationing in Costa Rica is suing Airbnb and the owners of the resort where she rented a room with her sister-in-law during the November trip.

In a civil lawsuit filed Thursday in Hillsborough County Court, Carla Stefaniak’s family claimed that the owners of Villa le Mas, a secluded resort in the San Jose suburb of San Antonio de Escazú and now called Villa Buena Vista , had not conducted a background check on a Nicaraguan security guard who was illegally in Costa Rica.

Costa Rican authorities say the guard, Bismark Espinoza Martinez, killed Stefaniak on November 28 – her 36th birthday – after returning alone to the villa she had rented through Airbnb. About a week later, on December 3, search dogs discovered Stefaniak’s half-naked body wrapped in plastic bags and half-buried in dense vegetation on the property about 1,000 feet from his bedroom.

Contacted Friday about the lawsuit, Airbnb said in a statement to Tampa Bay Weather who said he had removed the resort from his website and “stands ready to support (the) investigation as justice must be served quickly”.

“Our hearts are broken for Carla’s family, friends and loved ones,” the statement read. “We have reached out to provide support during this incredibly difficult time.”

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Stefaniak’s two brothers by Tampa attorney Jeffrey “Jack” Gordon, states that Martinez’s job came with free use of a hotel apartment, which was next to the one praised by Stefaniak. The 32-year-old guard had a master key to every room in the complex, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit lists a number of negligence claims against the resort owners and Airbnb, claiming the global third-party provider was negligent in its duty to protect guests. All parties profiting from Stefaniak’s booking, including Airbnb, should have known of the potential danger posed by giving Martinez “unsupervised access to vulnerable female guests in a private setting,” according to the lawsuit.

Airbnb allowed owners to earn substantial revenue by operating outside laws governing conventional hotels, the lawsuit alleges. The online rental agency also failed to perform background checks on resort staff before adding the resort to its list of online rental properties.

Airbnb also misrepresented listings by removing negative guest reviews on its site, the lawsuit alleges.

“While the defendant, Airbnb, has published glowing and positive reviews of the resort property and its hosts, there are and have been multiple reports since 2013 of guests having bad experiences and recounting being victims of staff affiliated with the resort that defendant, Airbnb sanitized of its own promotions and advertising materials,” the lawsuit states.

US State Department travel advisories issued through its Bureau of Consular Affairs have warned for several years that violent crimes such as armed robbery and assault are common in Costa Rica. The warning also says local police lack the resources to “effectively respond to serious criminal incidents,” the lawsuit says.

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Neither the resort nor Airbnb communicated these warnings to their guests, the lawsuit says. Stefaniak’s estate is seeking damages from both parties for the loss.

Stefaniak was reported missing by her family when she was unable to board her flight home from Costa Rica on November 28, her 36th birthday. A ‘Finding Carla’ Facebook page and social media campaign went viral as the search for her continued for a week.

Forensic analysis of the body suggests “several people were involved in the removal and disposal” of her body, the lawsuit says.

Costa Rican investigators found traces of blood in the villa apartment that Stefaniak had rented through Airbnb, and an autopsy revealed that his death was caused by blunt force trauma to the head. Stefaniak also received a broken neck and cuts to his neck and arms, according to the autopsy.

Contact Anastasia Dawson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.

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