Hotels are limited in their liability for your personal belongings.  Limited liability means that the hotel will only be liable for a given amount, regardless of the value of your loss.  However, if you can show that the hotel or its staff's negligence was the cause of your loss, then the hotel will be liable for the full value. 

What Is an Inkeeper's Liability?

A hotel is called an inkeeper. An inkeeper's liability refers to the hotel's liability to their guests. Under common law, an inkeeper or a hotel was liable for the loss or damage of their guest's property for the full value unless the loss was caused by an act of nature, 3rd party, or fault of the guests. Today this general rule still applies, but states have modified the rule to limit hotel's liability if the hotel complies with statutory requirements of their state.

Is a Hotel Always Liable for a Guest's Personal Belongings? 

If negligence is not shown, hotel liability depends on state law.  Here are some common examples where hotel liability is an issue: 

  • Acts outside the hotel's control - Many states have laws that protect hotels from being liable for acts that hotels couldn't control.  For example, hotels are not liable for your belongings if an act of nature or a fire destroys the hotel.  An exception in many states is that hotels will be liable for criminal acts committed by others on hotel guests under certain circumstances. 
  • Warning signs - For example, a sign in the lobby that states "This hotel is not responsible for any stolen or lost items" may be enough for hotels to avoid liability.  However, some states hold that a simple sign without any other precautions is not enough. 
  • Lost vs. Stolen items - Many states have laws that distinguish between lost and stolen items.  Hotels are generally more likely to avoid liability for a lost item then a stolen item. 
  • Bailments - A bailment (not to be confused with bail) occurs when you leave personal items in the care of another person.  For example, checking in bags or parking your car with a valet is considered a bailment.  In such situations, the hotel will be liable for the full value of the goods since they are in the hotel's custody. 

Can a Hotel's Liability Depend on the Guest's Actions? 

Yes it can. The hotel is typically not liable for loss or damage of their guests valuable if the loss was caused by the the guest's own fault. For example, if you negligently and end up losing your property, you cannot place the blame on the hotel.  A common occurrence involves the safe for your valuables provided by a hotel room.  If you don't use the safe and your valuables are stolen, some states will hold that the hotel is not liable since you could have protected your valuables but did not do so. 

How Are Hotel's Liability Limited for Loss of Guest's Belongings?

Hotel's liability for loss of guests valuables and belongings are limited under most state laws if the hotel was not negligent or at any fault for the loss and if they comply with all statutory requirements provided to them by the state. For example, if the hotel had adequate security and proper working locks on the hotel rooms, if the guests belongings is stolen from the room, the hotel will not be liable for the loss or damage. Hotels usually post notices indicating that belongings and valuables of the guest must be deposited in the hotel safe in order to be covered for any loss. This notice will indicate the limitations of the hotel's liability for any loss. The hotel usually has the guest sign off on the hotel's liability for lost and stolen items which will release their liability.

When Is the Hotel Liable for Loss of Guest's Belongings?

Here are some situations where the hotel will be liable for the loss or damage of the guest's belongings:

  • The valuables or belongings were stolen by a hotel employee or staff
  • The hotel failed to exercise reasonable care while guest's property was in their custody
  • Hotel failed to provide adequate security and working hotel room locks
  • Hotel did not comply with the statutory requirements provided to them by the state
  • Criminal acts of a 3rd party which the was aware of and failed to provide adequate security measures to prevent it

Do I Need a Lawyer to Hold a Hotel Liable for Lost or Stolen Property?

Since state laws regarding hotel liability vary so widely, you should consult an experienced personal injury attorney if you believe you have a claim against a hotel.  An attorney who knows the local laws will be able to inform you of what you can recover and other possible actions against the hotel.