When you check into a hotel and place your luggage in your room, you usually assume that your belongings will remain safe. But it can often happen that your belongings may be stolen or damaged while at a hotel. The fact is that hotels have limited liability for your property unless you can show that the hotel or its staff members acted negligently.
The legal rule that governs these cases is known as “innkeepers liability” and will determine whether the hotel is responsible for none, some, or the full amount of your losses. Here is a short guide to the innkeeper’s rule and how it can impact your legal rights.
Although it is an old-fashioned term, the term innkeeper is just a historical hold-over that refers to hotels and motels today. In the past, the rule stated that a “innkeeper” was liable for all losses and damage to a guest’s property, unless the loss was caused by a third party, an act of nature, or by the guest themselves.
Today, most jurisdictions have modified this rule to limit the hotel’s liability as long as they abide by certain regulations. Every state has different laws concerning hotel liability, but there are some commonalities.
Success in filing a suit against a hotel often hinges on proving the operator’s negligence, which is their failure to take proper care in performing their duties owed to their guests. Examples of possible negligent behavior includes inadequate security for the building, defective locks or hotel safes, and failing to secure guest property left in their care.
The actions of others can also rise to negligent behavior as long as the hotel had the duty to prevent such things. These include staff stealing from their guests, or being aware of possible criminal actions on their premises and not taking proper steps to prevent it.
In addition, the hotel can be held liable under the doctrine of negligence per se, which means that their actions are held negligent automatically by violating a statute. So checking the laws in that specific state is often important, as it might make proving the hotel liable a lot easier.
Because a few scenarios have come up time and time again when it comes to hotel losses, most states now have laws limiting their liability in certain circumstances. For example, most states now have laws protecting hotels for events out of their control, such as an accidental fire or an act of nature like a hurricane.
If this is the case, the hotel will not be liable for your belongings. There are also many cases where a guest may need to leave their luggage in the care of the hotel before checking in or after checking for safekeeping. The legal term for this is a bailment. If the luggage is stolen or damaged while it is in the hotel’s charge they will be liable for the full amount of losses.
Having luggage stolen is usually what guests worry about most when it comes to hotels. The laws regarding liability for any stolen property varies depending on the state and the circumstances. Many differentiate between lost and stolen, where a claim for stolen property will likely succeed, a claim for lost property will not.
State law may also limit a hotel’s liability if they post warning signs renouncing liability in their building or on their premises, such as waiving liability if a guest does not put valuables into the hotel-provided safe. But these signs may not absolve them completely. Check the specific jurisdiction’s laws and talk to an attorney for a clearer picture.
Beware of liability release forms. Most hotels now require their guests to sign one when they check in, which attempts to limit or deny any liability for losses under the stated circumstances. As long as the release does not violate any laws, they are usually binding. Another thing to be aware of is how guest actions may impact liability.
If you leave your valuables sitting in a hotel lobby where the public is free to come and go without taking them to hotel staff for bailment security, then a hotel will likely deny liability. Most courts will find that it was the guest’s fault, relieving the hotel of liability.
The laws controlling hotel liability vary from state to state. Thus, it is important that you contact an attorney familiar with that state’s laws to assess your case. If you believe you have a claim against a hotel, they can advise you on the case’s likelihood of success, and tell you what legal actions you need to pursue to recover your losses.