Liability for Damage or Loss to Guest Property
Generally, an innkeeper, under the common law doctrine of infra hospitium, is strictly liable for loss or damage to a guest’s property unless the property is lost or destroyed by an act of God, public enemy, or by the fault of the guest, or from some irresistible force other than the act of God or from an inevitable accident without fault by the innkeeper. Some jurisdictions allow the innkeeper to exonerate by showing that the loss or injury was not attributable to any fault of the innkeeper or an employee or agent. Innkeepers shall also be liable for the injury caused by the defective condition of the inn premises.
Public policy requires an innkeeper to be insurer of the property of his or her guests. An illegal act of the guest during the loss of or injury to his/her property shall not relieve the innkeeper of liability when the conduct is not the proximate cause of the loss. However, a person going to a hotel for an unlawful purpose shall not become a guest and therefore not entitled to a protection.
When a property not in the custody of a guest is lost or damaged, an innkeeper is liable only as a bailee for the property of guests. As a bailee, an innkeeper is liable only for gross negligence. Usually, an innkeeper’s liability extends to all the goods brought by a guest and received within the inn. An innkeeper owes a duty of providing security for the innkeeper’s guests and their baggage, and is liable if that duty is breached by the negligence of the innkeeper or the innkeeper’s employees.
The innkeeper shall be liable for the loss of the guest’s property and it shall extend to money, automobile or contents of the automobile, and any goods carried for commercial purpose. The liability of an innkeeper for the loss or injury to another’s property depends on the on the existence of the relationship of innkeeper and guest between the parties at the time of such loss or injury. The liability or responsibility of an innkeeper starts at the moment of the delivery of the goods. An innkeeper is not liable even as a bailee for the property of persons who do not intend to be guests.
An innkeeper is liable for the loss of or damage to a guest’s goods when they are being transported to or from the inn at his or her request. To charge an innkeeper with the extraordinary liability of an innkeeper for the safety of the property of a guest, the property should be in some manner placed in the custody and control of the innkeeper. A guest may retain personal custody of his or her goods within the inn without discharging the innkeeper from responsibility.
Wherever an innkeeper puts the goods of the guest, whether opened or closed, whether checkroom maintained by innkeeper or not, is within the limits of the inn. Liability of an innkeeper shall be established if the guest checks in baggage, car keys and such things to the innkeeper or an employee.
The innkeeper-guest relationship comes to an end when the guest pays the bill and checks out of the hotel. However, the liability of the innkeeper as such does not terminate at the instant the guest pays the bill and leaves the hotel. When the relationship of innkeeper and guest has been terminated by the departure of the guest, the innkeeper is ordinarily deemed to be liable only as a gratuitous bailee for the property of the guest entrusted to his or her custody for storage or safekeeping.
Until the goods of a departing guest are delivered at a designated place, such as a transportation depot, the innkeeper shall be liable. This liability exists though the innkeeper receives no additional compensation for providing this service. A stipulation in the form of a notice that the innkeeper is relieved of all responsibility for loss or that the goods are kept at the owner’s risk does not relieve the innkeeper from liability for loss caused by his or her own negligence or that of an employee. An innkeeper shall contract with a guest to receive the guest’s goods as an ordinary bailee, to keep it either for a reward or otherwise, and thus, be excused from extraordinary liability as an innkeeper.
An innkeeper may limit his/her common-law liability for the loss of or injury to the property of guests or make his or her liability therefore dependent upon the guests’ compliance with such rules or regulations, provided they are reasonable and due notice of the rules is given to the guest. A reasonable notice of the proprietor’s rule or regulation limiting his/her liability should be given to the guest in order to modify the common-law liability of the innkeeper.
In almost all jurisdictions, statutes modify or limit the strict common-law liability of the innkeeper for the loss of or damage to property of guests. Statutes modifying or limiting the common-law liability of an innkeeper for the loss of a guest’s property usually apply to money, jewelry, precious stones, or articles of small bulk which are to be kept within a safe or the sleeping room of the guest.
Generally, the right to recover against an innkeeper for the loss of or injury to the goods of a guest is based on a breach of duty imposed by law. The doctrine of contributory negligence is applicable to bar or diminish the damages recoverable by a guest in an action against an innkeeper for loss of the guest’s property,