Information about hotel liability

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Many years ago, hotels were completely liable for any damage, loss, or theft of a guest s personal property. Today, however, most states have placed limits on a hotel s liability as long as it follows certain regulations. For example, hotels must provide a safe for storing a guest’s cash, jewelry, and other valuable property. The hotel must inform guests that the safe is available for their use, that the hotel has limited liability for any items left in the safe, and that the hotel may not be responsible if the guest chooses not to keep his valuables in the safe.

Sometimes, hotels attempt to disclaim their liability completely with posted notices such as Management is not responsible for any loss suffered by guests or their belongings. In these situations, the hotel is attempting to gain more protection than is allowed generally under state laws. As a result, the hotel may lose any liability protection offered under state law and be held liable for the full amount of the guest's loss or injury.

The rules in many states give hotels leeway to accept valuables above a specified dollar amount. Many hotels today will provide notices (in the check-in materials or on notices posted in the rooms) limiting their liability to a certain dollar amount for items stored in the safe, unless the guest specifically declares a higher value. Some states have held that, when a hotel accepts items from a guest who has declared a stated value exceeding the statutory limit for hotel liability, and then the hotel has waived its protection and must reimburse the guest for the full value if the goods are lost or destroyed. Other states limit the exposure to the statutory amount, even if the guest declared a higher value. Also, the liability limit should be conspicuously posted for you to read, or the hotel may not be protected by the limit.

These statutory limits may not apply at all if the valuables were lost or destroyed due to the hotel's intentional or negligent acts. Many state laws limiting hotel liability were written to protect hotels from acts outside their control, such as tornadoes, fire, or armed robbery. If the hotel fails to use reasonable care in safeguarding guest's deposited property, such as routinely leaving the safe unlocked at night, then the hotel will likely be held completely liable for the full value of the property. Also, guests may recover against a hotel if it did not follow the letter of the state law limiting its liability. For example, if the law requires hotels to post conspicuous notices in guest rooms, but the hotel instead puts its notices on a piece of paper inside nightstand drawers, then guests may not have received adequate notice as required by state law.

If you plan to stay in hotels while traveling with a large amount of cash, jewelry, or other valuables, you should find out ahead of time what the hotel's maximum liability in its state will be. Also, you should check your business liability, homeowners, and travel insurance policies to see if there are loopholes in your coverage that would prevent you from recovering the full value of your possessions (for example, a disclaimer saying you cannot file a claim if you failed to use the hotel's safe for storing the valuables).

You may travel with valuable property that cannot be easily stored in a hotel safe but exceed statutory limits for hotel liability, such as designer dresses and fur coats. If these goods are lost or damaged, you may still be able to recover from the hotel if you can demonstrate its negligence. Some jurisdictions hold the hotel responsible only if it were grossly negligent, and the line between simple negligence and gross negligence can be fine.

Centuries ago, hotels were strictly liable for protecting your horses, carriages, and other means of transportation. Today, hotels are required only to exercise reasonable care to protect your vehicles. In fact, many hotels post signs in their parking lots and print disclaimers on parking tickets expressly disclaiming any liability for guest’s vehicles.

The situation changes, however, when it comes to guests goods that are left in the care of the hotel, such as clothing given to the front desk clerk for the hotel ' s laundry service and luggage stored with the bellman in return for a claim check. This personal property falls under the legal theory of bailment, in which you (as the owner, or bailor) leave goods in the care of another person (the bailee), who must return the goods to you at some future date or become liable for the full value of the goods. In the case of laundry, checked bags, and other guest property left in the hotel's custody, the hotel must exercise reasonable care in handling the goods or reimburse the guest for the full value if the goods are lost or damaged.