If you’re on the road, the last thing you want is to become the victim of a crime while staying in a hotel. In the old days, hotels were responsible for safekeeping your property during your stay. If your things got stolen, the hotel was on the hook.
That’s not usually the case now. Many states have passed laws protecting hotels by limiting the liability of hotels if a guest’s property is destroyed or stolen. Nowadays, even if the hotel is at fault for losing your property, you may not get the full dollar value of your loss.
There are exceptions to this rule, however. If the hotel did not exercise reasonable care, like failing to secure doors, hallways, or parking lots, the hotel could be found liable for your property’s entire value.
Just as with thefts from hotel rooms, the hotel could be liable if your things are stolen out of your car while in their parking lot. And if the hotel did not exercise reasonable care in protecting your car (i.e., if the hotel was negligent), it may also be held liable for damage directly to the car.
Who is Responsible for a Crime that Happens at a Hotel?
The person who commits the crime is the most obviously liable party. However, depending on the circumstances surrounding the crime, a hotel owner can be held at least partially responsible for crimes that occur on the premises. You, as the victim, must establish certain things in your case to recover damages against the hotel.
For example, you must demonstrate:
- The hotel owner knew or should have known of the dangerous condition. This could be true if the hotel was in a high-crime area and did not inform guests.
- The hotel owner did not make the condition safe or warn the guest.
- The guest did not know of the dangerous condition or the risks involved.
Can a Hotel be Held Liable for the Actions of its Employees?
In many instances, yes. The hotel may be held liable if an employee steals from a guest. The hotel is not required to have any advanced warning or knowledge of risks associated with the employee. In a case like this, the guest would need to prove that the hotel was not careful enough about whom they hired or about the supervision or training of employees.
Under the theory of vicarious liability, the hotel is responsible for its employees’ actions as long as they complete the action within the “scope of their employment,” meaning in the course of their job duties.
What Can Hotels Do to Avoid Liability?
There are certain things that hotels can do to keep guests’ property safe and, at the same time, avoid liability. The baseline is that hotels need to provide adequate measures to protect the safety of their guests.
If they don’t meet the baseline, then the hotel may be considered to have been negligent. “Inadequate measures” of safety can involve several things, including:
- Failure to anticipate crimes: If the hotel is aware of particular circumstances that may result in crime — for example, if the hotel is located in or near a high crime area — or knows of similar crimes that have occurred on hotel property, the hotel is responsible for taking measures to help protect guests. This may include the installation of security cameras or hiring security guards stationed on the premises. If an employee has been caught stealing from a hotel guest, the hotel must fire the thief, or it will be liable for any thefts committed by that person in the future.
- Failure to warn: Even if the hotel does not install a security camera, at the very least, they should warn guests if the hotel is located in or near a high crime area.
- Failure to maintain the premises: The hotel is responsible for ensuring that the hotel is in good condition. Sometimes criminals take advantage of things like faulty locks or windows to access a room. The hotel must make sure that these things and other items are properly maintained and repaired
- Inadequate lighting: If there is insufficient lighting in parking lots or hallways, the hotel may be putting guests at risk. Dark hallways and dimly lit parking lots may invite the possibility of crime or injury as well
Sometimes, hotels try to exempt themselves and limit their liability for any stolen property to avoid liability. For example, a notice may be posted inside your hotel room stating that the hotel is not responsible for anything inside the room and is not responsible for any valuables or property worth over a certain amount.
In a lawsuit, some courts will side with the hotel and say that their attempt to limit their liability is successful; other courts will not, but rather will apply the legal principles outlined above. Talking to a qualified personal injury attorney may help you determine who may ultimately be responsible for your situation.
How Can I Show the Hotel was Negligent?
Proving negligence requires the plaintiff to show certain evidence. If you have been the victim of a crime or injured on hotel property, you can show that the hotel should be held responsible for the loss or injury you suffered on the premises.
As part of your evidence, you must be able to show:
- You were on the hotel property as a paying guest;
- The hotel owed a standard duty of reasonable care to its guests. This is a given, based on current law
- The hotel breached its duty of reasonable care by some action or failure to act
- That was the cause of your financial loss or physical harm
What if My Car is Stolen on Hotel Property?
Generally speaking, automobile crimes (including theft and vandalism) are in their own category, separate from other crimes that may occur on hotel property. As a rule, the hotel must use reasonable care to protect guest vehicles from damage or loss. The hotel may not be responsible for any damage or loss as long as they exercise reasonable care.
For example, providing adequate lighting and posting warning signs in the parking lot may be enough for the hotel to show that they exercised reasonable care to keep the area safe and warn guests to secure their valuables.
Do I Need a Lawyer If I Have Issues with Hotel Liability for Criminal Acts?
If you are the victim of a crime that has occurred on hotel property, the first thing you should do is contact the police and report the crime and then notify the hotel staff. Next, it is best to consult a personal injury attorney, especially if you believe the hotel was responsible for your situation.
An experienced attorney can talk to you about your situation and assess whether the hotel you were staying at was negligent. Your attorney can pinpoint whether the hotel violated its legal duties to you as a guest and help you navigate the legal system if you decide to seek damages against the hotel.